Food Review: Soylent keeps its promises—plain, but effective

Despite+a+gritty+and+uninteresting+taste%2C+Soylent+curbs+unhealthy+cravings+and+gives+the+body+an+appropriate+amount+of+fats%2C+proteins%2C+carbohydrates%2C+fibers%2C+and+more.

Fair use image courtesy of Soylent

Despite a gritty and uninteresting taste, Soylent curbs unhealthy cravings and gives the body an appropriate amount of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, fibers, and more.

Paul Watkins, Science & Technology Editor

When something promises to “revolutionize” anything, people are usually skeptical – and rightfully so. Education was thought to be revolutionized with the advent of radio, television, computers, and the internet. All have failed, as seen by the fact that the overwhelming majority of people still learn stuff from teachers in classrooms. In the same vein, personal transport was said to become revolutionized with the advent of planes, electric cars, and hydrogen fuel cells. None of these have replaced the gasoline car, and for a good reason. So when Soylent, a beige liquid promising to revolutionize food popped up a year ago, I was skeptical.

Soylent is a foodstuff created by a Silicon Valley software engineer when he became tired of preparing food. (A popular joke is that he didn’t want to learn how to cook.) It is a dull beige liquid with the consistency of heavy whipping cream that its namesake company promises contains everything the body needs: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and vitamins. The majority of Soylent is a cocktail of maltodextrin and oat and rice protein, giving it its grainy texture and protein shake-like smell. This, added with what is essentially a multivitamin, makes up the dry ingredients in Soylent. An oil blend and around two parts water top off the mixture.

Looking at the ingredient list for the first time seemed a bit disconcerting to me: can that really be all? Oats, rice, sugars, and oil? After three weeks of living with a diet consisting of around 40% Soylent, the answer is a resounding yes.

The main thing that Soylent boasts is how easy it is to make it. There are some fancy things to make it feel a bit better in the throat, but all that’s required is to mix the powder, included oil blend, and water in a pitcher and then shake. And after three weeks I have gotten the preparation down to an art by using refrigeration and an immersion blender.

The other thing Soylent has to its claim is just how much better it is compared to a typical meal or snack. It has the right amount of everything, making sure that one vitamin or nutrient is not over- or underrepresented in  a meal, and making it easy to count calories consumed if you’re on a stricter diet than I am. And this shows: drinking Soylent I feel more alert, more ready to learn in school, and have  more energy sometimes than I know what to do with. Accompanying this with time gained from not making food everyday and it’s hard to not recommend it as a default meal for most people.

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However, there is a bigger problem: grittiness…It’s a major step back from Soylent’s goal of being the foodstuff for the human at large.”

— Paul Watkins, Science & Technology Editor

The only thing it really lacks is taste. It’s not bad, but it’s not terribly good either. The taste is neutral, neutral enough to not get bored of it, but also neutral enough to make you feel like you’re living in a dystopian future where all food has been reduced to this. It smells vaguely like a vanilla protein shake, and the taste reminds one of pancake batter, but it’s never really an impeding factor in eating the thing. You get used to it eventually – many times I was craving for a glass of it – but for first-time users it’s a flaw that they might not overlook.

However, there is a bigger problem: grittiness. Soylent sticks to the back of my throat pretty easily, and the granules leftover from the powder are big enough to somewhat chew. This can all be alleviated by drinking some water, or by using more time-consuming preparation methods, but it’s a major step back from Soylent’s goal of being the foodstuff for the human at large.

Soylent has also taken off with the DIY community since its inception in May of 2013. Since Soylent the company follows a Silicon Valley-like ethos, their entire formula is available for free on their website and the company seems committed to taking an evolutionary approach to changing it, complete with “version numbers” (currently at 1.3) and “release notes” with every upgrade. Soylent also has a section of their website and forums on others completely dedicated to users creating and sharing their recipes (affectionately given names such as “People Chow” or “Schmoylent”) with the community. With the given tools, users can tweak the formula to their liking. It’s also a good way to craft a diet tailored specifically to you: athletes can add protein, ketogenics can remove carbohydrates, and people looking to lose weight can remove calories at will, making Soylent an incredibly versatile food that can truly be made for everyone.

If you want to get your hands on some, you might have to wait a while. I ordered mine in June and it arrived in late October. Some people report waiting over a year for their initial orders of Soylent. They won’t release official numbers, but it’s safe to say they’re having more demand for the stuff than they can fill. The good news is that reorders take a significantly shorter time: about 2 days for me. Still, some people don’t want to wait that long for a smoothie. It also says something about Soylent the company when they secretly stop shipment because of farts. Say what you want about the food, but by ordering Soylent you’re subscribing to a new type of food company as well: one that is modeled after the Silicon Valley startup and one that isn’t hesitant to be incredibly pragmatic about the state of their product.

Soylent is not intended as a replacement for food. It will never be a replacement for food. However, it is a replacement for the frozen pizza, or the makeshift quesadilla, or a burger from McDonald’s that people begrudgingly eat when they’re hungry. At its essence, Soylent wants to “compete with rice and beans,” says founder and software engineer Rob Rhinehart in an interview with Ars Technica. And at this it’s doing a fantastic job.