What is the main ingredient in a chicken nugget?

Have you ever had the experience of finding a Chicken Nugget on the floor board of your car that had been sitting there for weeks (or maybe months)? If you have kids, this has probably happened to you at some point. The striking thing about finding an old Nugget is that it looks just the same as it did when it was dropped onto the floor. The other striking thing is that it never emitted an odor like a real piece of chicken would after it begins to rot. I have had this experience, and it doesn’t take a scientific study to conclude that something is amiss with fast-food Chicken Nuggets.

Nevertheless, a new study in The American Journal of Medicine shows precisely what’s been missing—namely, chicken! In a nutshell, researchers found that the main ingredients of chicken nuggets are fat, epithelium, bone, nerve, and connective tissue, not chicken meat. From the study:

We bought an order of chicken nuggets over the counter at each of 2 national fast food chain restaurants near our academic health center in Jackson, Mississippi. One nugget was selected at random from each box…

The nugget from the first restaurant… was composed of approximately 50% skeletal muscle, with the remainder composed primarily of fat, with some blood vessels and nerve present… Higher-power views showed generous quantities of epithelium and associated supportive tissue…including squamous epithelium from skin or viscera…

The nugget from the second restaurant… was composed of approximately 40% skeletal muscle… Here too, there were generous quantities of fat and other tissue, including connective tissue… and bone spicules.

The study arrives at four main conclusions:

(1) Fast food chicken nuggets have become a staple of the American diet.

(2) The composition of the present day chicken nugget is not well understood.

(3) Our histopathological analysis of representative chicken nuggets shows that chicken is not necessarily a major component.

(4) The term “chicken nugget” is a misnomer.

You can read the rest here.

P.S. If you continue to eat chicken nuggets, I won’t judge you.

(HT: John Dyer)


  • Amber

    Thanks a lot, Denny…. I just asked my husband to get me chicken nuggets on the way home from work.

    ….. I’m going to eat them anyway.

  • Barbara Jackson

    It says, 50% skeletal muscle in one, 40% skeletal muscle in the other. Typically, that’s the very definition of meat (skeletal muscle). Granted it has some other additives from the animal, but if you’ve ever eaten a hot dog or a piece of sausage….or ground beef…..

    • Lynn Burgess

      Hot dogs are gross too to be sure! Not sure about hamburger; it includes ground cover fat but I am not aware of any other “additives.”

    • Bob Goethe

      Yes…I was thinking that same thing. What IS “chicken meat” BUT “skeletal muscle”? This seems like if you are going to say that “a chicken nugget is missing chicken meat” and then include this data about “skeletal muscle”, you are sending two different messages in your article.

      If the nugget doesn’t rot, the more interesting question is why doesn’t this nugget, which is 40% or more chicken meat, not rot?

      But as a control, one ought to leave a 1 oz. piece of chicken breast on the floor of the car to see if it does indeed rot…or if it just slowly turns to chicken jerky as it dries. Seems to me that I remember from my bachelor days having done just this…and found results similar to that of the abandoned nugget.

      Of course, it is way more fun to rag on McDonald’s than it is to think through the contents of a daily blog. So I say, continue to heap scorn on fast food!

  • Stephen Beck

    Looking at two individual nuggets is now being passed off as a scientific study?? It is not as if it is altogether time consuming, expensive, or otherwise harmful (millions are already consumed every day) to find a larger sample!

  • Ian Shaw

    I would hope that our good friends at Chick-Fil-A don’t fall into this category. Their chicken actually tastes like chicken and I make an hour drive to the closest one to my house every couple of months. This is always why I hunt and eat venison instead of ground beef. I know exactly what I’m eating.

    I thought for a moment Denny was going to use this as a precursor to a message somehow. That would have been epic.

  • Ian Shaw

    As far as ground beef, I learned the lesson real quick. You know how it looks so bright red in the stores? That’s not natural. Found out the very first time I field-dressed and “processed” my first deer. Skeletal muscle is not bright red. It’s more of a dark purple/red with a hint of grey (at least for 4 legged friends)

    • Lynn Burgess

      Chick-fil-A® Nuggets

      nuggets (whole chicken breast, seasoning [salt, monosodium glutamate, sugar, spices, paprika],

      seasoned coater [enriched bleached wheat flour {with malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid}, sugar, salt, monosodium glutamate, nonfat milk, leavening {baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate}, spice, soybean oil, color {paprika}]

      milk wash [water, nonfat milk, egg], peanut oil [fully refined peanut oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness and dimethylpolysiloxane as an anti-foaming agent]).

  • Ian Shaw

    ^^^I may not be able to pronouce some of those words, but their chicken tastes distinctly more like actual chicken than any other fast food establishment, or even the chicken nuggets you buy frozen in the store. At least chicken is the first ingredient, which means it’s the highest content.

  • barry joslin

    Technically, if all of the, ahem, “ingredients” of the “nugget” are from a chicken, then it is still a “chicken nugget.” Right? No one says that they are all chicken-MEAT nuggets. Though implied, McD’s would get off on a technicality, right? If they say “100% chicken!” then they really aren’t lying, right? If the connective tissue, skeletal muscle, bone, blood vessels, and nerves, are all chicken pieces, then it’s still a chicken nugget. And its still disgusting.

    Now, let’s get into some Taco Bell taco meat. What IS that stuff??

    Lastly, there’s the McD burgers. There’s one on YouTube from 1999 (14 years!) that still looks fine. No rotting, or mold, or . . . changes.

    Google: “mcdonalds hamburger experiment” and have fun.

    “Da da da da da . . . I’m lovin’ it.”


    PS – Kale chips rock.

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