The first time I cooked Daring’s plant-based chicken pieces, I was freaked out. I’d let the product samples sit in their colorful little pouches in my freezer for about a month before I was brave enough to cook them. Chicken was what made me stop eating meat in the first place. One morning, I walked by a fresh-kill butchery and saw a flock of chickens in their cages, patiently awaiting their fate. I haven’t touched meat since. (Though I do break for fish once or twice a month. I live in New England. It’s practically the law.)
The protein in Daring’s “chicken” is soy—not unlike products from Impossible Foods. (By contrast, Beyond Meat’s “chicken” products use fava bean protein for its base.) However, for the average consumer, most shoppable plant-based “chicken” options are largely found in nugget form. Seems pretty easy—me, a non-food scientist, says—to mimic the texture of a nugget:
- It’s squishy.
- It’s breaded and fried.
- It’s sort of nebulously textured.
- It’s that pink leftover goo that nearly broke Jamie Oliver on national TV.
But Daring’s “chicken” comes in unbreaded pieces, like pre-cooked grilled strips. They do sell a breaded, tender-type product, but the brand’s real appeal—and prowess—is in the form of pre-seasoned, plain strips that cook up and shred like real chicken.
Daring had a banner 2021; the company closed its $65 million Series C in October. That raise came just months after the May conclusion of a $40 million round, led by D1 Capital Partners, with additional backing coming from a pack of A-listers that included tennis star Naomi Osaka, NFL quarterback Cam Newton, and rapper Drake. The company—which formed in the UK before formally launching stateside in 2020—first launched its DTC product to consumers with the financial and infrastructure support of Rastelli Foods Group, a multi-brand, family-owned meat company in New Jersey. (“We really try to be a center-of-the-plate protein solution,” VP Ray Rastelli III told Fast Company in March 2020.) And now, Daring has arrived in the likes of Walmart, Erewhon, and Whole Foods, as well as a smattering of restaurants. I order mine from GoPuff. There has yet to be a splashy national fast-food chain rollout à la Beyond’s debut at KFC—but I also don’t think that’s the point of the brand. Its differentiator is that the product doesn’t need to be hidden by breading or a deep fry.
Daring’s pieces are easy enough to cook with. Throw the strips into a pan over medium heat with a bit of oil, and let them sizzle. Unlike the uniformity of nuggets, they’re slightly varying sizes, as though you chopped up a chicken breast or thigh into strips. They quickly brown and get crispy at the edges. They sizzle and get a satisfying sear. They smell like chicken. The experience could be alarming for someone who hasn’t eaten meat in a long time. Which probably only adds to their appeal.
Daring’s strips come in three varieties: Cajun, Lemon & Herb, and Original (aka plain), as well as the aforementioned breaded option that is serviceable in an air fryer. The breaded pieces are uniquely distinctive from their plant-based-nugget counterparts in that they taste and look like a breaded piece of dark meat chicken, which for me, was crossing an uncomfortable line. Meanwhile, the unbreaded Daring pieces, while mind-boggling, are delicious.
With 14g of protein per serving, Daring’s strips give a more flavorful protein heft to a salad that cans of chickpeas and cubes of tofu never quite delivered. They’re fantastic for fajitas or threaded onto skewers and brushed with sauce in a grill pan. My Daring pieces did not fare so well in soup; they turned slimy and unappealing. But for other meals, they are quick, low in fat, and oh-so-chicken-like. And for some non-meat-eaters, that might be a bit too much. If Impossible’s “heme”—the plant-based “bleed” that gives the protein an iron-like flavor and the ability to ooze red juices—grosses you out, these might, too, as they’re almost too real. But, for others, that might be a good thing.
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