Food & Drink | September 1, 2022 7:04 am

Juicy Marbles’ Plant-Based Filet Mignons Don’t Taste Like Steak, And That’s Okay

Founded by a team of meat-eaters and vegans, Juicy Marbles plans to roll out meatless tenderloins and more whole cuts

A plant-based filet mignon from Juicy Marbles.
Juicy Marbles' filets aren't real steaks but they still have some sizzle.
Juicy Marbles

The saying goes: If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. Well, the four-ounce filet mignon from Slovenian brand Juicy Marbles looks like a steak, even cooks like a steak but, well, it’s a 100% plant-based. So, where does that leave us?

Made from water, soy protein concentrate, wheat protein isolate, sunflower oil, natural flavors, beetroot powder, kappa carrageenan, methylcellulose, salt, yeast extract, iron and B12, Juicy Marbles’ steaks are engineered to develop a crust and marble just like actual meat during the cooking process to end up with a final shape, texture and taste that approximates a real-deal French filet.

Neither printed nor grown in a lab, the plant-based “meat” that Juicy Marbles produces comes from what the brand describes as its patent-pending “Meat-o-Matic 9000.” The 9000 version of the Meat-o-Matic has likely undergone some changes since Juicy Marbles first made “meat” with its prototype machine considering what the brand paid for that first device.

Juicy Marbles' plant-based filet mignon.
Juicy Marbles has had no problem charging $2.50 per ounce for plant-based steak.
Juicy Marbles

“Two of my cofounders paid a guy here in Slovenia a six-pack of beer to develop the first prototype that made the initial protein that got us the investment,” co-founder Vladimir Mićković tells InsideHook. “That started it all. It was very, very scrappy and fun.”

Scrappy and fun are apt words to use to describe Juicy Marbles, which was founded by a team of meat-eaters and vegans in the midst of the pandemic last year and was almost named Chunky Thoughts instead of its current moniker. Another good word would be aggressive as the brand’s filets start at $10 apiece and are sold in packs of four. Discussing the company’s business model, Mićković references Tesla.

“They started with the Roadster and then they went to the cheaper models. I think it’s similar here,” he says. “A filet is very friendly to an early startup in the sense that it’s a more premium product. We are still working our way to bigger volumes, so we can’t sell it for cheaper. We had to come out with a product that has that air of premium-ness around it, but we’re going to introduce other cuts of meat that are not so premium.”

Meet the meatless meat from Juicy Marbles.
It all started with a Slovenian six-pack…
Juicy Marbles’

Those cuts will include tenderloins, ribeyes and sirloins and may also include a rebranded version of the filet mignon which will instead be marketed as a thick-cut filet. That change, according to Mićković, would be to avoid creating the very specific expectations the term filet mignon conjures up. “Being slightly vaguer is going to be better because some people do take it a little bit personally,” he says. “I think it’s a fantastic piece of meat, but if I say filet mignon it’s immediately going to be compared and that one-to-one comparison is the real problem, It creates this precedent that if it’s not exactly the same, it’s not good. But it really doesn’t have to be the same to be a good thing to eat.”

Mićković certainly has a point. Having tried the meat-free filets with a group of four that included a vegetarian and someone who eats plant-based more often than not, the consensus was that Juicy Marbles’ first offering was tasty and had good texture but did not necessarily replicate a steak, let alone a filet mignon. If anything, the filet, when seared with just salt, pepper and a little oil, more closely had the taste profile and layering of corn beef. Crispy on the outside yet relatively juicy on the inside, the interior of the filet flaked apart with just a fork. All in all not really all that similar to a filet, but still pretty tasty and better than some other high-end meat replicas on the market.

The brand’s current spot in the market is an interesting place to be for Mićković and Juicy Marbles as their debut product may not appeal to the hardcore carnivore looking for an exact meat substitute nor will it necessarily excite those on the flip side of the culinary coin who only want non-processed plant products as their protein sources. It’s a fine line — and somebody’s got to cross it.

“There are two spectrums. On one end, you have the religious meat-eaters who will never acknowledge this. I’ve seen similar aggression from the clean-eating squad who are against anything that’s slightly processed. It’s not only meat-eaters who are saying stuff like ‘I’d rather put needles in my eyes,’” Mićković says. “I like to think about this pragmatically. It would be ideal if everybody could just be wholesome, but in the time span we have to drastically cut down on emissions and so forth, it’s just not realistic. It’s weird in the plant-based world, but I believe there are enough people who aren’t so ideologically bound that will just try it and judge it by their tastebuds. I see plant-based meats as some kind of a gateway drug. Entering the world has to be on your own terms.”