I’m a stickler for sticking to a grocery list. No, we are not buying that name-brand deli meat—it’s not on the list. Deal on fresh spinach? Not on the list. And yet, I have my vice: there is no grocery store luxury I’m more susceptible to overspending on than steak. Costco has USDA Prime Ribeye at a dollar off per pound? Yes, I’ll take six. Local butcher has some beef raised down the road that’s obscenely expensive? Worth it.
I hesitate to call it a problem, because red meat is perfectly fine for most folks, and I’m disciplined enough with my budget to avoid steak-induced insolvency. But, speaking generally, I would like to cut back on animal protein here and there—if only for variety’s sake. That’s how the curiously named plant-based “meat” maker Juicy Marbles caught my attention.
The company, whose branding reminds me of the unhinged look of Dr. Bronner’s products, sells a plant-based “tenderloin” straight out of the uncanny valley. But does it taste good? I bought a whole loin to find out.
What Is Juicy Marbles Plant-Based Steak?
The “juicy” refers to its inherent moisture and the “marbles” points to the marbling found on great beef steaks. Together, the name is slightly uncomfortable, but so is a steak imitation product, so it all sorts itself out in the end.
What’s Juicy Marbles made of?
Despite a unique appearance and irreverent packaging, the ingredient makeup of Juicy Marbles is very similar to other non-meat meats: water, soy protein concentrate, wheat protein isolate, sunflower oil, natural flavors, beetroot powder, kappa carrageenan, methylcellulose (thickener), salt, yeast extract, iron, and vitamin B12. This means folks with a soy or wheat allergy should steer clear, of course.
Where can you buy Juicy Marbles?
Right now, you can only buy Juicy Marbles through its website—whether you’re a regular person or a restaurant looking to serve the product. For now, the company ships to the US and EU exclusively.
What’s Good About Juicy Marbles?
It’d be simpler—and is indeed fairly common—for fake-meat producers to lean on added flavoring or seasoning to make their product more appealing. Juicy Marbles’ plant-based steaks are unseasoned and “raw,” just like a cut of beef from the grocery store. This means you aren’t forced to cook it one way or eat it with a specific cuisine.
I tried the whole-cut tenderloin as a filet mignon, shredded it into “steak” and eggs, and put chunks of it in a very liberal interpretation of Texas-style chili. Just like its beefy forebears, it worked just fine in each—though some cooking styles worked better than others, which I’ll touch more on later.
It doesn’t taste bad
While it doesn’t taste beefy, it also doesn’t taste like solid spinach. Cooked like a filet, it was difficult to put my finger on exactly what the flavor I was getting was; but after chewing, metaphorically squinting, and thinking on it, I’d say the best analog is under-seasoned pastrami.
If that sounds bad to you, fair enough, but adjusted for the average taste of non-meat meat, “not bad” is close to an 8/10 for me.
I do think Juicy Marbles meat is significantly improved by a quick pan sauce. I deglazed a pan with a little stock, apple cider vinegar, and honey and let it simmer for a bit. The meat was much better for it.
Big protein energy
This one goes out to all the macho types who can’t fathom a plant-based steak doing the trick—Juicy Marbles steaks carry more protein per ounce than any beef steak. The difference (6.5 vs. roughly 6) isn’t massive, but it’s not nothing either.
The rest of the macro balance is give-and-take. A beef filet mignon will be about 40 percent more calorie-dense than a Juicy Marbles filet, but Juicy Marbles’ is significantly higher in carbs and lower in fat, making it a nice option for folks looking to keep muscle while cutting calories.
What’s Not Good About Juicy Marbles?
Cost per ounce
While I’m certain there is a near-future world in which plant-based meats are available for roughly the same amount of money as their animal-based brothers and sisters are, that future isn’t here yet.
Juicy Marbles whole-cut loin costs roughly $35 a pound to buy online before shipping, which makes it more like $40 a pound. Though the cost of beef may vary depending on where you live and the quality of the cut, you likely won’t see beef at $40 a pound unless it’s some kind of USDA Prime ribeye or the like. If a non-vegan is forced to choose between the two, the decision shouldn’t be particularly difficult. If a vegan or vegetarian is considering Juicy Marbles, that’s still significantly higher than other faux meats that are available at grocery stores (though, I would argue, are not as good as Juicy Marbles).
So until grocers subsidize plant beef like it does real beef, or the plant-meat-makers of the world lower their margins, there will likely be a value bridge between the foods.
I’m not a food scientist, chemist, or physicist, but it’s pretty clear the steepest hurdle for Juicy Marbles—and indeed most of its not-meat compatriots—is texture. When the comfortable, luxurious expectation of tender filet mignon meets the reality of somewhat dry, almost-meaty Juicy Marbles, the initial feeling is one of confusion.
There are streaks of fat, but they don’t melt down like the marbling on a steak might. The Juicy Marbles filet does develop a glorious crust, but the lack of moisture inside the cut means there’s less contrast between charred exterior and juicy interior.
After cooking filets of Juicy Marbles, I opted to cut it up into smaller chunks and fry it with some onions and potatoes in a hash. The texture (and taste) was markedly better this way. The texture was even better—and closer to indistinguishable from beef—when stewed into a chili. But, I figure most will want to cook the plant-based steak like a steak, so points deducted (with an asterisk).
The Bottom Line
If you’re a meat-eater looking for a novel dinner or perhaps a small glimpse into the future of food, Juicy Marbles is worth a shot. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian looking for a staple fridge protein you’re likely a bit early—Juicy Marbles is a hair expensive and hard to find to hold a place in your regular diet. No matter who you are, the texture will take some getting used to.