There are a lot of different kinds of pepper out there! What most think of first when they say “pepper” is black pepper, a member of the Piper family. For others, it would be Capsicum, the family that provides us with the intense chile peppers. And even outside of those two, there are lots of thing called “pepper” that aren’t pepper in the least, like pink pepper or allspice.
This month, Popeyes has decided to take that same wide ranging idea of what constitutes a pepper in their Wild Pepper Tenderloins, chicken tenderloins spiced with habanero, aji amarillo, and Sichuan peppercorns (spelled as Szechuan in the advertisements). Are these peppery tenderloins really that wild, or are they mild? Find out after the jump.
The most immediately interesting thing about this new item is the addition of the Sichuan peppercorn. Sichuan peppercorns were banned from import in America from 1968 to 2005, due to the peppercorns being possible vectors for citrus canker disease. In 2005, new importing standards were implemented and 10 years later we are seeing what might be the first fast food item to use this unique pepper.
Though both habanero and aji amarillo are chile peppers, they are not true peppers. Sichuan peppers, on the flipside, are neither Capsicum nor Piper. The inclusion of two different chiles feels a bit silly, especially when the habanero could have been subbed out for a gimmicky Piper like white peppercorns.
What makes the Sichuan peppercorn really tick is its flavor. It’s spicy, but in a completely unique way: it has a tingling, numbing kind of warmth that is frequently likened to licking a 9-volt battery. The idea of adding such a unique pepper to a mass-market fast food meal is intriguing; we’ve wanted to get our hands on a sample of the Sichuan pepper for a very long time, and this was our first opportunity to try it in a common meal.
This combo came with four chicken tenderloins, a side, and a biscuit. For $4.99, this was not a lot of food.
These tenders are small. We are really not fans of when Popeyes does their tenderloin specials, because each time they are way too expensive for way too little food. Why do you continue to use the pricy tenderloins, Popeyes? Is the assumed premium of chicken tenderloin really worth the added cost, or is it just a faux upscale to justify an additional charge? We will never consider four tiny pieces of chicken to be worth five dollars, even if it does come with a side and biscuit.
Our meal was supposed to come with a new Red Hot Honey dipping sauce, but our Popeyes apparently did not have any, because they swapped it out for Sweet Heat without telling us. This was an immense disappointment, as we really wanted to try the Red Hot Honey. We can’t vouch for its quality or taste, so it feels like an immense letdown.
This is pretty standard for Popeyes, at least in our area: the locations near us are always poorly-stocked. It feels like they spend more money on aggressively advertising their limited time offers than on actually making sure every location has them.
As for the flavor of the chicken, we liked it. The breading on the chicken was somewhat dry and stale-feeling, but the meat was juicier than we remembered our last experience with Popeyes tenderloins being. The spice level was average, and left a lot to be desired – that tingling sensation that the Sichuan peppercorns are supposed to provide was barely present. There was a smokey heat, warm and rounded, which worked well with the Sweet Heat dipping sauce we were provided for a great balance.
It was good, but it was missing a lot. To add insult to injury, a staff member had accidentally dropped a full-sized spicy chicken tender into the box, and it added the realization that there really wasn’t just that much of a difference. Most of the flavor came from the pre-existing chicken spice mix, and the rest was just accessories.
It would have been nice to actually taste the individual components. This is the same problem that plagues a lot of Popeyes’ limited time offerings: the front-and-center ingredients are just not very distinguishable. Aji amarillo is supposed to taste sweet and fruity, habanero is supposed to be citrusy and sharp, and the Sichuan peppercorns themselves are supposed to be mouth-tingling. But the two chiles taste like each other, and the peppercorns don’t taste like anything. Disappointing.
2.5 out of 5 – Not Worth Trying
In all honesty – this was a pretty gimmicky meal. We liked it, but it seemed like the whole burden of the food rested on the shoulders of the Sichuan pepper. Otherwise it was a dinky, overpriced meal with very little real content. Why not just stick with regular tenders, Popeyes?