Vegan Week: Subway's Meatless Meatball Marinara Melt Tastes Like Balls

By Shabana Arif on at

Vegan week here at Giz UK is in full swing, with the staff sampling the tastiest meatless morsels the high street has to offer. We were off to a strong start with Gregg's Vegan Steak Bake, and KFC's Original Recipe Vegan Burger, but things started going downhill with the McDonald's Veggie Dippers and are positively subterranean with today's instalment - Subway's Meatless Meatball Marinara Melt.

First off, I typically pile the toppings on at Subway so my sandwiches are usually jam-packed with veggies and dripping with sauce. They might not be the best sandwiches around, but they're cheap and you get a decent six-inches for your money, or a generous 12-inches if you feel up to handling that. Not wanting to sully the taste test in anyway, I intended to get the subs as they're advertised on the menu, which meant vegan cheese on the vegan sub - not ideal. Luckily, it comes in tiny squares about half the size of the usual American cheese slices, and just two were applied to the top of the meatballs which was laughably stingy, but I'm not a fan, so that was fine by me. The meat version doesn't actually include cheese in its bog standard form, which is weird because it's literally called Meatball Marinara Melt. Melt. It implies the presence of cheese. So I added cheese anyway. And my sandwiches still looked sad as all fuck.

Subway Meatless Meatball Marinara Melt (left) and Meatball Marinara Melt (right)

The nutritional values for each sub can't be compared outright as one is advertised with (vegan) cheese and one is advertised without, and it's not clear if the bread type being accounted for is based on the pictures or not, but if we just say that the cheese is the only difference, a six-inch vegan meatball sub comes in at 498 calories compared to the meaty balls' 501 calories. The meatballs looks almost the same at first glance - and honestly, a normal person isn't even going to give them that - but on much closer inspection, the vegan balls look darker than their mystery meat counterpart. Seriously, the website doesn't say what's inside of them. Are they pork? Beef? Chicken? All of the above? No clue. Once the two types of cheese start melting, you can tell the difference by eye there too, with the vegan cheese looking very... gloopy.

Subway meatballs up close and personal. Vegan (and their gloopy cheese) on the left, meat on the right.

After all that scrutinising of balls, it was time to chow down, and let me tell you, I was surprised with the results. Being a very picky meat eater, I generally prefer the veggie option because I know it'll be free of weird bits and still taste just fine. Having bought an entire foot of sandwich, I was expecting to have a few bites of the meat sub and then polish off the vegan sandwich in its entirety. It didn't pan out that way at all. The meatballs were really unpleasant. I actually tossed out the rest of it and had six inches of meat for my dinner instead. And now we're all having to suffer through this awful innuendo. The vegan meatballs left a lot to be desired, from their flavour to the texture. They're much denser than the regular meatballs, which melt in the mouth by comparison, and the consistency is almost rubbery. Is this what eating one of those really bouncy ping pong balls feels like? I think probably yes.

Abominable vegan meatballs on the left, regular balls on right

That wouldn't be so bad if the taste wasn't so nasty. The plant-based alternative is supposed to be "equally as delicious as the original". It's worse. So much worse. The flavour reminds me of those early veggie burgers; you know, the ones that ditched the medley of under-cooked vegetable chunks in favour of faux-meat mulch that was as close as we'd get to emulating real meat at the time. There was no delicious Impossible Whopper waiting in the wings for those who forsook meat. It certainly won't be inedible for a lot of you out there, it's just not palatable. And that's before the vegan cheese gets anywhere near it, which is itself horribly cloying. The worst part of the sub is the aftertaste that lingers in your mouth for longer than it has any business to.

Ping pong ball on the left, meatball on the right

For someone like me to opt for the meat option over the veggie when eating fast food, it's either going to have to be really good meat, or a really shit veggie alternative. We can go ahead and rule out the first one, straight away. No one is eating at Subway for the quality grade-A meat. I'm genuinely surprised and somewhat disappointed at how bad the Meatless Meatball Marinara Melt actually is. If you're heading into Subway and are looking for a vegan option, I'd just get the Veggie Delite, and you can always whack some of that vegan cheese on if you really must. A handful of the store's sauces are vegan, so you can lube it up with a splash of one of those. Over in the US the vegan meatball sub is made with Beyond Meat, but this miscellaneous version foisted onto our shores should be given a wide berth.