What Is In That Chicken Nugget?

Reporter: Helen Wellings

They are Aussie kids' favourite fast food. A tasty snack or convenient main meal. But our investigation into a range of chicken nuggets from supermarkets and fast food outlets reveals what is actually in them that makes them so tasty.

The key questions Today Tonight asked are:

Exactly how much fat, kilojoules, sodium, and most importantly, actual chicken is in nuggets?
And what is in that chicken?

Here are our findings:

- Most nuggets fillings are not much more than half chicken, typically around 53 to 56 per cent.

- Those with the most chicken are:
MacDonald's (60%), Baiada (63%), Hungry Jacks (64%) and KFC (65%)

But some have just a fraction of that.

- The lowest in chicken are:
Hillendale (48%), Colonial Farm (37% and Chickadee (29%)

According to dietician Sharon Natoli of Food and Nutrition Australia there are much better choices than chicken nuggets out there on the market. "There are a lot of additives and chemicals in chicken nuggets, so they are not a highly nutritious food", she said.

Toby Markham, ex-chef, and now food quality assurance supervisor knows the A to Z of Aussie nuggets. "We're getting formed chicken usually. That means not a slice of muscle and a conglomeration of muscle chunks and starches, binders and fillers," he explained.

"It's basically to mimic the texture and structure of chicken."

Usually, nuggets are made of either formed ingredients, or in cheaper ones, a manufactured mix, called mechanically reclaimed or deboned meat, MDM.

"This is also a formed or pressed product but it has far more muscle mass, far more chicken."

In formed meat, little bits of chicken are held together with binders, starches, gums, fat and water, maybe skin. The mixture is stamped into a shape that looks like a whole piece of chicken.

It is the methods and filler ingredients of fast food processing that have turned TV chef, Jamie Oliver, into a crusader against kid's favourite foods, including chicken nuggets. Mechanically deboned meat may have skin and fat added. The mixture is packed into boxes, frozen and delivered to food manufacturers. The cheaper the nugget, the more mechanically deboned meat mulch it is likely to contain.

The problem is that unless the label states it is chicken breast or thigh, there is no way of telling whether a nugget's chicken content is mostly skin and off-cuts."It's a high fat food certainly in some of the chicken nuggets we tested, particularly because some people will go fry the nugget as well so you're adding even more fat," said Ms Natoli.

Ms Natoli advises that parents always read the ingredients and nutrition panels.

- Lowest fat and kilojoules
Inghams Lite (3gm/saturated 1.4gm) and Baiada (5.6 gm/saturated 1.5gm).

- Up to 7 times more fat:
Steggles (20.3gm/5.6gm saturated), Coles Farmland (18.1gm/saturated 5.7gm), Colonial Farm (18gm/saturated 4gm), Hillendale (15.5gm/satuated 4.5gm) and Chickadee (15.2gm/saturated 4.2gm).

- And generally these had around 1100 to 1300kJ per serve.

According to Ms Natoli this means they are contributing more fat, saturated fat and salt. "All the things we really want to minimise in the diet."And very low amounts of chicken, which is why the are a very poor source of nutrients.