The Chemistry of Chicken Nuggets


I chose McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets as my research subject. I chose this because I’ve eaten plenty of Chicken McNuggets in my lifetime but never really inquired what was actually in them. As part of a New Year’s resolution of mine to get healthy I decided to research the chemistry of Chicken McNuggets to find out what many people in this world, including myself, put in their bodies for food. Chicken McNuggets affect my life because they’re extremely unhealthy, but not only are they not good for you, they are substantially contributing to the expanding epidemic of childhood obesity along with diabetes and other health complications across our nation.

Composition of ...

-Chicken McNuggets are said to include cartilage, bone fragments, intestines, and blood

vessels rather than just lean chicken meat

-Most of the ingredients of a Chicken McNugget are made from corn. Also, many of the ingredients are synthetic rather than natural.

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components


Tertiary-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ)

Formula C2H6OSi, it’s used as an anti-foaming agent in food. Also commonly found in shampoo to make hair shiny and slippery. It is a silicone. Also, it is an elastomer so it helps make things stretchy.

Formula C10H14O2, commonly used as a food preservative due its long shelf life and being unable to change the taste or color of the food preserved. It is a carcinogen in particular to stomach cancer. It’s used to preserve unsaturated fats from animals or vegetables. The FDA’s limit is 0.02% or below. However the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) does not consider it to be a carcinogen. It’s also a type of Butane.

Chemical structure of tert-butylhydroquinone

Chemistry's Role

Chemistry’s biggest role in the making of of Chicken McNuggets is how the chemicals listed above react with the other ingredients to form the nugget itself. Dimethylpolysiloxane is an antifoaming agent; they have many properties that can make this happen. Antifoaming agents have a low viscosity so they can move through liquids and foams with ease. When added to the cooking oil that makes Chicken McNuggets the dimethylpolysiloxane stops the process of effervescence, the process of when gas escapes a liquid in a form of bubbles or foam. The silicone properties of this chemical breaks down the “walls” of the bubble until the air inside is released. TBHQ is a preservative, because of the compound’s stability it isn’t easily broken down so the shelf life of a McNugget is longer. It’s also preferable because it doesn’t discolor or mess with the flavor.

Background Research

    • Invented in the 1950s by a Cornell Unv. professor named Robert C Baker
    • A study of 2 American fast food chains concluded that the nuggets contained less than half of skeletal muscle.
    • “Chicken Nugget” is a misnomer, they’re mostly fat.
    • Largest chicken nugget weighed 51.1 lbs and was 3.25 feet long and 2 feet wide.
    • Chicken McNuggets are “flash frozen” immediately after being fried
    • There are four distinct McNugget shapes: the bell, the boot, the bow tie, and the ball


About the Author

Chloe Binstock is a junior at Senior High who loves to run, draw, do yoga, or volunteer at the Montana Audubon Center. She enjoys Spanish class, Art, Environmental Science and the great outdoors. She aspires to go to college at MSU or Montana Tech and begin a career in environmental studies or a pathology.