Taco Bell's New Naked Chalupa Uses a Plant-Based 'Chicken' Shell

The new vegetarian item is getting a limited test run in California.

Over the past three years, plant-based firsts have come at us fast: White Castle becoming the first chain to sell Impossible Burgers at all of their locations in 2018 or Pizza Hut becoming the first major pizza chain to partner with Beyond Meat in 2020. But the plant-based trend exploded so quickly, it's practically gone from innovative to passé -- and brands are realizing they have to do more to grab customers' attention.

Already this week, Wendy's announced they're going retro: eschewing the modern, meat-like plant based burger for a more traditional vegetarian patty by testing a new Spicy Black Bean Burger. And now, Taco Bell has announced something on the opposite end of the spectrum: taking a plant-based product and applying it to one of their more far out products. If you happen to swing by Irvine, California, you can currently try a Naked Chalupa made with a crispy plant-based "chicken" shell instead of its usual fried chicken.

Plant-based Naked Chicken Chalupa at Taco Bell
Taco Bell

"We've long been a food disruptor, and this time is no different," Liz Matthews, Taco Bell's global chief food innovation officer, said of the unexpected new test item. "We've seen our industry follow patterns of sameness, but we understand that consumers are looking for creativity and craveability in this space."

Officially released with the clunky name "the Naked Chalupa with a Crispy Plant-Based Shell," the new item is described as "a new menu innovation that gives vegetarian and veggie-curious fans everywhere reasons to shell-ebrate." And as for that shell, Taco Bell states this certified vegan option was created by "the masterminds of the Taco Bell Test Kitchen" using a pea protein-based proprietary blend -- meaning it was apparently made in-house. (Interestingly, later in the announcement, Taco Bell explicitly reminds everyone that the chain "remains excited about teaming up with Beyond Meat to create a new innovative plant-based protein" with "details on specific timing and market(s) to come.")

Meanwhile, the rest of this Naked Chalupa is pretty standard -- or at least as standard as a taco made with a faux-chicken shell can be: It's "filled with lettuce, cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes and flavorful avocado ranch sauce," just like the usual Naked Chicken Chalupa.

However, unfortunately for Taco Bell's legion of fans -- much like many of Taco Bell's recent test items -- the Naked Chalupa with a Crispy Plant-Based Shell is only available at one location and for a very limited time. You can grab one at the Taco Bell location at 2222 Barranca Pkwy in Irvine, California, from now until June 27, 2021, while supplies last.

And not that price is really an issue when you go out of your way to get to a specific Taco Bell test item at a specific location, but expect the new Naked Chalupa to set you back $3.49 plus tax.

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