Is the Popeyes Blackened Chicken Sandwich Healthier than the Original?
In 2019, Popeyes fired the first shot in the "chicken sandwich wars", by releasing a fried chicken sandwich that became a smash hit. The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich was a viral sensation and sold out almost immediately. It also spawned tons of copycats. Even Taco Bell got in on the action with the Chicken Sandwich Taco.
Three years later, Popeyes is back at it with a brand new take on the chicken sandwich, the Blackened Chicken Sandwich. This new menu item shares a lot in common with the Original Chicken Sandwich. They both come in a classic version (with regular mayo) and a spicy version (with spicy mayo). Both are also served on a buttery brioche bun and are topped with barrel-cured pickles.
There are two key differences between these two chicken sandwiches. The first is that the Blackened Chicken Sandwich is marinated in a blend of Cajun and Creole seasonings. Popeyes marinates the anti-biotic free chicken breast fillet in a blend of black pepper, cumin, red pepper, garlic, onion and paprika for 12 hours, which should really help bump up the flavor.
The other difference is that the Blackened Chicken Sandwich is not breaded. That means it's not going to be nearly as crispy as the original Chicken Sandwich, but does it make it a healthier option?
Is the Blackened Chicken Sandwich fried or grilled?
In researching this article, I had a hard time finding out how the chicken fillet in the Blackened Chicken Sandwich is cooked. Popeyes website made no mention of the cooking method used. I did find various articles around the web claiming that this sandwich is healthier because it's grilled. That would be welcome news, as grilling usually results in a significantly healthier product than frying. However, I was skeptical.
To my knowledge, Popeyes doesn't offer any grilled products. That made me think it was unlikely that Popeyes locations would be equipped with grills, and thus wouldn't be able to grill the Blackened Chicken Sandwich. After much searching and no definitive answer to be found, I just called my local Popeyes and asked them. The employee who answered my call confirmed that the Popeyes Blackened Chicken Sandwich is indeed fried. Bummer. But does the lack of breading make it healthier than the original Chicken Sandwich?
Does the Blackened Chicken Sandwich have fewer calories than the original?
When comparing the calorie content of the Blackened Chicken Sandwich to the original, the Blackened Chicken Sandwich does indeed have fewer calories. The original Chicken Sandwich contains 700 calories, but by skipping the breading, the Blackened Chicken Sandwich only contains 550 calories. That's means choosing the Blackened Chicken Sandwich over the original will cut your calorie intake by 20%. That's nothing to sneeze at.
Digging deeper into the nutrition facts, we can see that the Blackened Chicken Sandwich contains significantly less fat, saturated fat and trans fat than the original Chicken Sandwich. While the original contains 42 g of fat, 14 g of saturated fat and 1.5 g of trans fat, the Blackened Chicken Sandwich only contains 29 g of fat, 5 g of saturated fat and 0 g of trans fat.
There is one aspect of the Blackened Chicken Sandwich that doesn't stack up well with the original: the sodium content. The Cajun and Creole marinade used in the Blackened Chicken Sandwich must be loaded with salt, because it contains roughly 80% of the daily recommended intake of sodium. At 1900 mg, the Blackened Chicken Sandwich has significantly more sodium than the 1443 mg found in the original sandwich.
Is the Blackened Chicken Sandwich healthy?
The Blackened Chicken Sandwich does appear to be healthier than the original Chicken Sandwich from Popeyes. However, registered dietitian Cheryl Orlansky cautions that the blackened sandwich still is not a very healthy option. Orlansky points out that half the calories in the Blackened Chicken Sandwich come from fat, which is far more than is recommended. Instead, you should be getting more of your calories from protein and complex carbohydrates. Orlansky was also critical of the sodium content in this sandwich.
Eating healthy at Popeyes can be tough. Unlike many other fast food restaurants, they don't seem to have many options that are nutritious, low calorie or low sodium. For example, you won't find salads or fruit side dishes on the Popeyes menu.
Does that mean the Blackened Chicken Sandwich is your best bet at Popeyes for a healthy meal? Orlansky doesn't think so. Instead, she recommends the Blackened Chicken Tenders. Of the blackened tenders, Orlansky says "they are 170 calories with 2 grams of fat, 0 saturated fat with 26 grams of protein." That's a significant reduction in calories, fat and saturated fat compared to the Blackened Chicken Sandwich.
See the full nutrition comparison between the Popeyes Blackened Chicken Sandwich and the original Chicken Sandwich.
About the dietitian
Cheryl Orlansky RDN LD CDCES