Two months of Soylent

I’ve been drinking Soylent, the powdered meal replacement, once a day for nearly two months. Here’s what it’s been like for me, separated in different modules so that you can read whatever you’re most curious about.

Why I got it. The University of Rochester is located inside the bend of a river. A huge cemetery caps the bend so that the only ways out are the tips of the curve. You can cross the river via a bridge, into a neighborhood responsible for a big chunk of all crimes committed in upstate New York. The upshot is that for a city-based college, the U of R offers unusually few good food options close to campus. The dining halls serve dining hall food, expensively; there are no substantial grocery stores around; there are few restaurants, even fast food joints, nearby.

I like to cook, and right before senior year I was living in the center of Toronto while working at a company that offers daily catered lunches. After that summer I decisively gave up hope that college food could be fun. So I ordered Soylent.

(Incidentally, the company I worked at runs the software used to sell Soylent.)

Taste. I’ve received two types of Soylent: Version 1.3, which I’ll call cake-mix Soylent; and Version 1.4, which I’ll call burnt-sesame Soylent. The earlier one comes with bottles of oil that are to be mixed with powder and water; the latter version is straight powder.

1.3 has a sweet taste. It’s presumably the version reviewed by The Verge, which likened the flavor to peanut butter mixed with milk. Appealing, no? Those though aren’t the words I’d use. For me it smells and tastes like those Betty Crocker vanilla-flavor cake mixes: A bit oversweet, but otherwise quite pleasant. The consistency is thin, so it doesn’t go down all that smoothly.

I prefer 1.3 to 1.4. This newer version is bland, hardly sweet. It has more of a savory taste, and the best I can do to describe it is to say that it reminds me of slightly burnt sesame seeds. There’s a bit of a nutty flavor. It’s thicker and smoother, but I do miss the sweetness of the old version.

As I started to drink Soylent regularly, I got scared of the possibility that I’ll one day find it too revolting to swallow. That won’t happen soon, but the thought lurks. Once you reach that point you never want to drink this stuff again, no matter how thoroughly it’s modified and updated. A problem I’ve had with both versions is the persistence of clumping; you can’t get rid of the occasional bit of dry powder in your mouth as you drink. Making it with warm water doesn’t eliminate them. No matter how aggressively I stir and shake, they’ll always be there, undissolved. (Note: I don’t have a blender and haven’t at all been creative with the mixture, for example by adding fruits or cocoa.)

Last thing about taste: You’re supposed to make Soylent the night before and let it chill in the fridge. One day I forgot to do that and had it “fresh.” It was awful. Good Lord. Never drink this stuff warm.

Satiety. Soylent is filling for the moment, but I get hungry soon afterwards. I usually have it to replace lunch, and am looking for food three or four hours later. I’m not a snacker, but I have to keep a stock of apples and cookies. Soylent might make more sense for breakfast, when convenience is more of a premium and where the distance to the next meal is shorter.

I can’t see myself going entirely without food, as anyway this was never my intention. I enjoy cooking if I have easy access to ingredients! I’d be hitting the point of revulsion much sooner if I have this more than once a day.

Health. I’ve experienced no noticeable changes in health or digestion. Some people say that they lose weight, get more energy, or even get to see skin improvements. I haven’t noticed these or any other changes. It’s all been… normal.

Storage, preparation, and convenience. The raw powder can last a long time (upwards, it’s claimed, of two years). But watch out for the caveat: Soylent spoils quickly once you make it.

It takes me four days to finish a batch. Twice when I skipped a day the last quarter of Soylent spoiled, and when it was always refrigerated too. So I’m wary of taking it out and bringing it for example on a hike. You run the risk of spoilage, it tastes terrible when unchilled, and the container is hard to clean in the outdoors.

Making Soylent is as convenient as promised. All you have to do is dump a bag of powder in a pitcher made by the company, throw in water and oil, then shake/stir. With the new Soylent, you don’t even have to add the oil. These are the basics. I’ve learned tweaks, e.g. having water in the pitcher before adding the powder to reduce clumping.

It takes maybe ten minutes, and then I have lunch for four days. Washing the big, gooey pitcher requires lots of soap and water, but of course that’s easier than doing lots of dishes.

Has it been life changing? Not really. The positive take is that Soylent is great if you’re not expecting a lot out of it. I’m little affected healthwise. I don’t find that I have a lot more extra time. That said, it is nice not to have to think about what to do for lunch.

I guess that the biggest benefit of Soylent for me is a psychological one. I don’t always want to cook, but I’m frugal enough not to want to eat out more than a few times a week. I’ve always been a lunch packer. Soylent makes it easy for me to get out of cooking every day without having to feel guilty about eating out. After all, this stuff is cheap, about $3 per meal.

Frustrations with the company. I placed my first order last July, hoping that the shipment would start in September. Soylent told me to wait until October. Come October, a delay: The company told me to expect it in November. Come November, delay again. By the time the powder arrived I had already moved to Germany. Soylent doesn’t ship internationally so I had to wait trying it out until I returned.

Once the subscription started everything was smooth, but the delays were annoying. The advertised two-month waiting period turned into a five-month one.

Ideological commentary. You see I’ve saved this until the very end. People give me incredulous looks and questions when they see that this is what I’m “eating.” Some react with visible sympathy, as if I’ve never enjoyed good food. It’s in vain that I assure them that I grew up in one of the great food cultures of the world, or that I don’t mind cooking, or that Soylent doesn’t demand that I give up on the world of solid food.

Quite a bit of the skepticism directed towards Soylent feels misplaced and elitist. I don’t understand why people are so derisive of it. I challenge the doubters to declare that every meal they have is a plate of nutritious deliciousness, prepared simply, and enjoyed in the company of friends. For the rest of us, there’s at least one meal that involves little cooking, is meant to be quick, and is not often nutritious. That’s called breakfast, and for that at least, isn’t Soylent a great replacement?

People, Soylent is a straightforward Pareto improvement over lots of common situations. It’s simpler and better for you than to get donuts and iced coffee; or a hot dog in a cafeteria before a meeting you’re late for; or a frozen microwave dinner after an exhausting day. Tastewise, Soylent is about as interesting than the latter two. This stuff should be sold in (refrigerated) vending machines, and well-stocked in corporate fridges. It may not be super tasty, but it’s pleasant and nutritious.

Other issues. No I haven’t seen the movie. Yes I would order more when I run out.

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33 thoughts on “Two months of Soylent

  1. Soylent doesn’t seem sufficiently different from ensure, which has been around for decades, is cheaper, and comes from a company that makes medical meal replacements and therefore presumably has some good data. We were frustrated enough by the uniformity if these options to create something we would actually want to eat. So now we get to see if there’s a market for a whole food solid nutritionally complete food. Drop me a line if you want to try some, we love brutally honest reviews.

    • The main problems with things like Ensure and Boost is that they are generally designed to be a meal replacement and not a complete food replacement. They also are generally expensive and full of sugar.

      For instance, Boost regular contains 240 calories per bottle. This means you need 8 of them each day. They contain 20g (22g for ensure regular of sugar per bottle, which means 160g of sugar a day. They also cost around $2.50 -$3.00 per bottle (ensure seems cheaper here) which puts it at $20 per day which, even at soylent’s most expensive, is twice the price.

      You can see the first three ingredients of Boost here: http://www.boost.com/Content/img/product_nutrition_original_chocolate.jpg . . . Water, Corn Syrup, and Sugar.

      Esnure here: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/81XfcBdfPdL._SL1446_.jpg (Water, Sugar)

      Also, the vitamin mix isn’t balanced for food replacement but to supplement an existing diet or skip a couple of meals, or even go a day or two if you can’t eat solids for some reason. Though I’m sure you can find other products that are balanced for those purposes these serve different functions than what Soylent is aimed at.

      Also, you can’t flavor it yourself and it’s a huge amount of plastic bottles going to the land fill.

    • I am trying Soylent mainly to replace vitamins and minerals from a prolong illness. It may not taste like ensure it has less sugar so I don’t get blood sugar spikes. Ensure often causes major issues. While several have reported gas I have had naseua but it more than likely the medication I am on than the Soylent. For me keeping my hair, teeth, skin, saving my fingernails and toe nails, avoiding mouth ulcers from vitamin deficiency it is worth trying. Some reviews stated they gave up regular food completely. I use it for breakfast and lunch. I take medication for nusea so far it has come back up. So real food that I can’t seem to keep down that taste horrible on its return trip I am not too excited about. I do use organic juice with no sugar added to mix it with and I have been using it for 2 months. My blood work looks better, no mouth ulcers, my nails are better, (not prefect but better) my hair right after starting the med’s was coming out in handfuls, now it has slowed and what I have is healthy. I am happy with the results. Anyhow tHat is my two cents for free!!

      • You should maybe try the Soylent with water rather than juice since I’d expect the juice to screw up proper digestion of it all. Worth a try at least to see if it stops your nausea.

  2. This comment is less about Soylent and more about your gastronomic plight.

    I graduated from UR a couple years ago, so I’m surprised to hear you decided to turn to Soylent to remedy the woeful state of on-campus/off-campus dining. Almost everyone I knew moved off campus when they were eligible because the rent was so much cheaper, the housing so much better, and the freedom so much broader than living on campus. I’m talking $350-$400 monthly for a nice room, with a full kitchen in a house, with no campus administrator breathing down your neck. Compare that to the financial reaming the administration doles out onto the unsuspecting parent-underwriter of this thing we call four-year university housing.

    It really wasn’t much of an inconvenience to get to school even in the deepest, darkest days of the winter, and there was a more or less reliable bus service if you lived in the deep ward. Hell, the “nice” campus housing for upperclassman is either in the ward also or so far out from the academic quads that it might as well be.

    The effort of planning to be on campus all day was minor — pack your lunch, pack some dinner, you’re good to go; when I was writing a thesis I was on campus between 9 am and usually midnight or later. I knew that, so I thought ahead.

    But even if you didn’t want to live off campus, I’m sure you know someone with a car to get to Wegman’s, no? Every couple weeks, hop into the old jalopi, and stock up on Wegman’s brand everything and you’re set. You save money, you’re not drinking your food, and you get to savor the best thing Rochester has to offer. Other than Acme Bar, of course.

    I can see the Soylent being great for when you’re stranded on campus late at night, but that’s about it, so I guess I’m just confused why a pure Soylent diet was how you decided to solve the problem.

    • First of all I didn’t do a pure Soylent diet. I said repeatedly that I have it once a day, and can’t see myself doing more than that.

      I moved off campus as soon as I could, for all the reasons you cite. I’ve lived in three places: Mount Hope/Elmwood intersection, 19th Ward (right across the bridge), and behind the med center on Stanford.

      Packing dinner doesn’t sound like much fun, right? Why pack two meals if you can Soylent?

      I went to Wegmans every week, with friends. This is heresy I know, but I don’t love it. It doesn’t have much in terms of Asian/Chinese ingredients, the stuff I like to cook. I don’t care much for its prepared foods either. I find most of its selection pretty boring. Still, it sustained me, and I did most of my cooking from food bought from there.

      Here’s how a good food day might look: You have a Wegmans muffin with milk for breakfast; Soylent for lunch; cook dinner. Dining halls/restaurants for variety.

  3. A chef’s technique you might find helpful: Thoroughly mix a small amount of the liquid (20%?) with the powder, then add some more liquid and mix again. Keep going until all is incorporated. It is easier to work the lumps out of the thicker mixture and once they are gone the remaining liquid adds more easily.
    Move out of the dorm!

  4. See the movie. It is a great time capsule of the 1970s, It shows just what a bummer they thought the future was going to be because of the population bomb.
    It is also Edward G Robinson last movie, he died three weeks after filming wrapped and he knew he did not have long. Knowing that makes the movie even more poignant.

  5. Thanks Dan for the interesting article. The ideological commentary part was funny. I’ve noticed the same, people sometimes really think that this guys must have eaten liquid food for all of his live, and never enjoy the pleasure of eating out with friends. However, I believe this is going to within next few years. Liquid meals are going to be common place in offices around the world. It’s simply so convenient, healthy and gives you freedom.

    I enjoy Ambronite ( http://ambronite.com) lunch everyday myself. It’s real-food drinkable meal, a bit like Soylent, but from organic ingredients.

      • That’s correct Ash 🙂 Couldn’t find any product in the market that would match my level of standards regarding ingredients, so we set out to create one

        • Mikko, we are all fine with product placements, but you should always put a disclosure stating your relationship with the product, if there is any. Else most will find it disingenuous

  6. Your ‘trick’ for mixing it with fluid more efficiently is, in 1.4 at least, improved upon by the instructions in the manual that ships with Soylent — which instructs you to add half the powder, half the water, mix, and then add the rest before mixing again. I’ve had no trouble with clumping, using this technique. (I should also note — the 1.4 manual suggests that soylent will spoil 2 days after being mixed, not 4! I haven’t tested the limits of this, so it may be conservative.)

    With regard to Soylent vs Ensure (and other ‘nutrition shakes’) — while nutritional shakes have existed prior to Soylent, they’ve been pretty strongly biased for a particular market that doesn’t value being able to replace every meal with it. Ensure and its various direct competitors (CVS Liquid Nutrition, for instance) are mostly consumed by older people who have trouble eating or people who have trouble eating due to illness or injury; because all of these groups have relatively low activity levels and a tendency to lose weight at dangerous levels, these drinks tend to have more sugar and fat per calorie than a balanced diet would. Other similar products are marketed toward other abnormal audiences (Muscle Milk, various protein shakes). Throughout college, I had such things for breakfast frequently; I typically had to have two or three cans in order to sate my immediate hunger, and I gained weight despite the 2-3 cans having fewer than 1/3rd of a normal daily calorie allocation. Soylent was one of the first major attempts to market toward busy and able-bodied young adults: while a lot of people lose some weight on it, that’s likely because they are consuming fewer calories than they are burning (a packet of Soylent provides 2000 kcal; an adult male burns an average of 2500 per day, and so could expect to lose weight at a rate of 500 kcal per day on an all-Soylent diet). After Soylent’s first wave of hype, I noticed direct competitors to it coming out of the woodwork and making similar claims; I don’t know how many of these were previously protein shakes and were simply rebranded, and although it’s possible that some of them are legitimately superior to Soylent, it’s also possible that some of them are dangerous because of how easy it is for this kind of product to skirt regulations.

  7. What I don’t understand is why people who are into soylent don’t simply look at what a human needs daily, and then create a simple recipy using as a baseline rice or ship-bisquits. or noodles.

    Complement that with some milk (or meat of fish), and you have exactly the same effect, although you would have to take a daily vitamine/mineral pill to suplement it.

    But maybe it’s not ‘socially done’ to say that you live on dry bread and water (with a vitamine pill to prevent you hair from falling out), because it sounds like a medieval prison diet. It’s also not ‘hip’ to say that you’re on a weight reduction diet, but if you image yourself to be part of a high-tech food revolution movement, then it’s ok?

    Sorry, but the Soylent emperor has no clothes.

    You’re trying to safe on money, and !maybe! trying to avoid awkwardness of eating alone by selling soylent to yourself as
    a good thing.

    But pricewise and ingredient-wise you might as well consider the following diets which are equivalent:

    1 Milk and Cookies (sea bisquits) + supplement pill
    2 Boiled rice balls with some fish + supplement pill
    3 Ramen / noodles + chicken (or some other lean meat) + supplement pill
    4 Bread with cheese + supplement pill
    5 Pasta pesto + supplement pill
    6 Papotoes with some gravy and supplement pill.

    I would opt for number 4. Cheap, easy, tasty thanks to all different kinds of cheese you could use (and different breads), and easy to take along + prepare.

    Not coincidentally almost all of them ARE basic food staples in some cultures (dutch, japanse, chinese, french.army-food, italian)

    • btw: I might sound harsh, but my critique is not you, but the Soylent movement some a my fellow geeks are into.

      If only rational arguments are used, then (in my opinion) there is no case for soylent.

      But I would love to be proven wrong.

      Dawkins:

      ‘I do remember one formative influence in my undergraduate life. There was an elderly professor in my department who had been passionately keen on a particular theory for, oh, a number of years, and one day an American visiting researcher came and he completely and utterly disproved our old man’s hypothesis. The old man strode to the front, shook his hand and said, “My dear fellow, I wish to thank you, I have been wrong these fifteen years”. And we all clapped our hands raw.

    • I’m open to the idea that all of us are just signaling cool.

      But personally I don’t enjoy most of the simple stuff on that list. Cookies as meals? Too sweet. Ramen, fish, pesto, gravy all take time to make, plus you have to buy and clean. Why not just make full meals with fresh vegetables at that point.

      I don’t enjoy bread and cheese a great deal. I tried to subsist on that for a while when I lived in Germany, which makes excellent forms of both, but gave up soon.

      Plus, carbs. And are supplement pills really effective? I’ve read that the evidence is mixed.

      Soylent is more convenient, and it helps to have low expectations of taste.

    • The Soylent people, to their credit, have encouraged a DIY movement from the start, and the DIY recipes section is the most active part of the Soylent website (http://diy.soylent.com/recipes/). You will find there a whole community of people beavering away at looking “at what a human needs daily, and then create a simple recip[e]”. You will also see that it isn’t so simple as you seem to think! But you join them and nerd-out on micronutrient numbers.

    • But pricewise and ingredient-wise you might as well consider the following diets which are equivalent:

      No, they aren’t equivalent. None of those options will give you the complete nutritional profile that Soylent does.

  8. So ..its cool to hear your responses being a Rochester college student! I’ve just recently graduated from RIT and found it hard to plan meals with a full schedule during classes, work, and clubs. It was only when I was on my full-time internships that I found time to cook.

    That being said, I appreciate your input; as I just started. But do you think your lack of “dramatic” health results – weight loss, energy or otherwise – is due to the fact that you don’t use it as often as those who went “all liquid?” I still agree with your method, as I am not currently replacing all meals with it either, and have no intentions to. However between your normal calorie intake and subsituting a meal, you might not be seeing much fluctuation or deficit. Just a thought but otherwise thanks for sharing!

  9. Glad to hear from you, Nicholette. Was it much better at the RIT campus? I haven’t spent much time there, but you guys have some food places near your Barnes & Noble, no? Can’t be worse than U of R…

    Sure, I didn’t go all-liquid, but I wasn’t doing this for the health. If anything improved it would just have been a bonus. On the other hand I’m glad not to get those gas problems that seem to plague certain people.

  10. Thanks for blog. I just started for the first time using version 1.5. Forgot to refrigerate before drinking but it wasnt that bad. Not sure I’ll be saying that after 10 times though … Have you tried mealsquares ? If soylent doesnt work out, might give that a shot.

    • Have not tried mealsquares or 1.5. Someone else told me that 1.5 is easier to drink warm, but that overall its flavor isn’t as good as 1.4 or 1.3.

  11. FWIW, I eat soylent as my primary source of nutrition.
    Different people have different reasons for eating soylent, this my reason:

    I’ve gone weeks without eating anything else because soylent makes it much easier to stick to a diet and especially to avoid binging.

    I really like regular food. I love savory food, especially Indian and Asian dishes. Because of that love, when I eat something tasty it triggers cravings for more tasty food. But when all I have in the house is soylent, I don’t get the urge to binge on soylent. The boringness of it is a tool that increases my will power.

    I’m not sure if Soylent is as healthy as it is cracked up to be, but I am sure it is better than the *average* crappy american diet. And in return for helping me lose a substantial amount of weight and then maintain, I think the trade-off is worth it.

  12. Thank you for your participation, and excellent thoughts.
    I, too, liked the earlier versions of Soylent, it was sweeter. Age has taught me to distrust foods I like better just because they are sweeter. Sweet spikes the mood, and the mood craves more. That is a fine place for an addiction to start. Intellectually, I understand that the most sustainable diet provokes no insulin response. So dump the sugar/carbs, and the earlier Soylents. I applaud every release that reduces the insulin response. I pray others will, too. For our own good.
    Aloha,
    kimo

  13. Currently it seems like Movable Type is the preferred blogging platform out there
    right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you’re using on your blog?

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