In the quest for increasingly realistic meat alternatives, one particular item has remained frustratingly out of reach. We’ve conquered burgers, mince and sausages to a large extent. Bacon is getting there, though there is still work to be done. And let’s face it, cheese is still a work in progress. But the holy grail? Beef steak. Thick-cut, tender to the touch, bouncy steak that melts in the mouth and feels realistically succulent. Juicy Marbles, a startup from Slovenia, is committed to tackling this gastronomic injustice and wow, have they ever triumphed.
There are other players in the plant-based steak sector, notably Indonesia’s Green Rebel and Spain’s Novameat. But Juicy Marbles says they were first to market with a marbled filet mignon, in animal terms, the tenderest part of the beef loin.The startup recently raised $4.5 million to scale and this week, it made 1,000 of its filets available for e-commerce order. It’s the first time the public will be able to get their hands on the vegan steaks since the company’s launch last March.
I was sent a care package featuring two plant-based whole cut filet mignons (full disclosure: these were gifted to me). Below, I share my full Juicy Marbles tasting review. TL;DR? The filets are everything they claim to be and more. Which is why I’m not sure I can ever eat them again.
To look at, the vegan filet mignon look like expensive little rounds of premium beef. The right shade of pink, swirled with fat marbling and vacuum-sealed as you’d expect, nothing gave away the meat-free composition. It does state ‘plant-based’ on the label, but I was too busy giving the cuts a tentative pressure test to check if they felt bouncy, like real meat. They did. I was startled.
The steaks are made from non-GMO soy protein and sunflower oil and Juicy says their patent-pending technology offers the marbling that is their trademark.
Taking the mignon out of the packet, the experience got even more surreal. I had to keep checking that this was a vegan alternative. Especially when the iron-rich aroma hit my nostrils. That smell that raw beef gives off? The packaging breathed it out in one big sigh and again, had me double checking the ingredients.
It’s been a while since I cooked meat. Over 10 years to be exact, so I read the instructions carefully and did some research online about steak. Everything married up nicely, so I got my pan on the Aga, added some salted vegan butter and dropped my gently-seasoned filet mignon in. The iron-like smell started transforming into a richer meatier aroma. Our dog was instantly excited! Once the first side had reached a suitable crust stage, I flipped. I then gave the sides a little attention, basting with the browned butter before checking the centres had reached the requisite 165°F.
I chose simple flavours to accompany the steaks. I had lofty ambitions of peppercorn sauce or red wine jus but realised I needed to test these in their natural form. Anything tastes great with the right accompaniment, these needed to stand alone. A serving of simple skin-on mashed potatoes and griddled vine tomatoes seemed like a good choice, so I plated. That’s when we (my long-term vegan husband and I) got nervous.
The steaks looked, smelled and had cooked like meat. They were so tender they didn’t need cutting because they pulled apart like perfectly aged beef that had been cooked reverently. Fork in hand, we couldn’t delay the moment any longer.
If I said that the Juicy Marbles filet mignon steaks were better than almost every real beef steak I remember having, it would not be an exaggeration. The meat felt rich and luxurious. It had the right amount of chew that, I thought, only comes from sinew. It released juices as I chewed and I had to stop. Yes, for another, final, packet check. My husband and I both felt as though we had been pranked with real meat and had a moment in silence, just looking at each other. Had we eaten beef? Thankfully no, but an existential crisis was just around the corner.
I’ve eaten beef that tasted less like beef than this beetroot-infused soy protein did. The simple truth is, anyone saying they could never go vegan because they love steak have zero excuses now. This IS steak, it simply hasn’t required an animal to die for it. Nothing about the presentation, cooking or flavour made me nod sagely and think “nice try but this doesn’t taste like meat”. The only thought I had was that Juicy Marbles have created something that has the power to change everything.
Why it’s a yes/no from me
For anyone looking to try the most realistic, spectacularly well-conceived vegan steak, this is it. It will fool seasoned meat aficionados and I daresay anybody that flatly refuses to even try vegan food because “meat is life”. As a tool for bringing about an end to the factory farming and animal slaughter system, I cannot praise this product enough. It can replace conventional beef with ease, and it should.
However. As an ethical vegan, I can’t bring myself to eat the Juicy Marbles steaks again. I had what I think was a small panic attack almost immediately afterwards. I assume this is what vegans who have accidentally eaten meat feel. That moment of being unable to reconcile what has just entered their bodies with their long-held beliefs. That’s how both myself and my husband felt. It’s a testament to the product that I felt this way. I have no beef with this beef successor, I just can’t put it back on my plate because I don’t miss the original. I’ve given nothing up in my quest to be an advocate for animals, so I’ll leave the filet mignon for people that still crave the real thing or those that need a final push.
Order your Juicy Marbles filets here.
Lead photo: Seasoned and ready to cook Juicy Marbles filet mignons / Amy Buxton for Green Queen Media.