I’ve always been a fussy eater (much to the disdain of my mother), a crappy cook, and a lazy person (especially in the kitchen). To top off that list, cooking healthy food, I’ve found, takes far too much time, and, for me personally, is not an enjoyable process. Each and every meal I make, I find myself romanticizing about the things I could be doing instead: writing; reading a book; playing video games; going for a walk and so on. Being inherently lazy, I was delighted to hear over a year ago that a new company had formed to make this odd thing called Soylent. (So named to encourage people to take food less seriously.) It is a food product developed by Rosa Labs, that, In their own words, is “designed for use as a staple meal by all adults. Each serving of Soylent provides maximum nutrition with minimum effort.”
To make it, one simply mixes the contents of a bag of Soylent (see below) with a liter (approx. one quart) of water. The resultant liquid provides 2010 calories made up of 252 grams of carbohydrates, 118 grams of protein, and 59 grams of fat. What I like about Soylent, at first glance, is the “maximum nutrition with minimum effort.”
On top of fulfilling the caloric requirements of the average person, it provides approx. 100% of all essential vitamins and minerals. (See the nutrition fact sheet here.) It takes about five minutes to make a days supply, and costs $8-10 depending on whether you buy a subscription to it or buy a months supply at a time. (Note: this is not to imply that every person needs 2010 calories or that specific quantity and assortment of vitamins. It is very easy, however, to add/remove calories using the included scoop. If you’re female and only need 1500 calories: remove two scoops of powder. If you’re a gym rat and need more protein: add some protein powder.)
I was an original backer when the concept was crowdfunding, and I’ve finally got my two months supply of Soylent. To put this review into context I’ve was on a 50-80% Soylent diet for the first two weeks, and geared down to 33% for the next two weeks.¹ I believe I’ve had enough time to formulate my thoughts and an overall review of the product.
In short, was it worth my money? Yes!
Now, as my readers know me as the rather wordy type, here is the long version.
Is it Tasty?
The taste is, as many have described, similar to cake batter, which, at first, is rather off-putting. That, however, needs a clarification: it’s off-putting because it is a new taste (unless you regularly eat cake batter), not because it is off-putting by nature. After a few days, it just becomes a bland shake. Apparently, they made it bland so your taste buds don’t become accustomed to, and therefore eventually sick of, a specific taste. After a few weeks of gulping it down, I can attest to this. I don’t look forward to having Soylent, but I am in no way reticent in consuming it. There are, however, ways of improving the taste for those who can’t stand cake batter. I’ve found that adding a banana or a scoop of flavoured protein shake to the blender are two options that I’ve tried that help; the banana gives a more consistent texture, while the protein shake—at least the flavor I added—made it more pleasant. In short, Soylent is not very tasty, but it is that way by design.
Is it Filling?
Satiety is an odd subject with a liquid food. Personally, I have a big appetite and it requires a lot of food to satisfy. To put it in perspective, this is a normal dinner for me: half a head of lettuce; large cucumber (300 grams); two large tomatoes (100-200 grams each); can of Brazilian beans (100 grams); half a can of corn (50 grams); and a couple of dozen olives topped with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. While it may not sound like much, that is almost a kilogram (2 pounds) of salad in one sitting; and despite eating rather late, I’d still typically go to sleep slightly hungry two to three hours later. I say this not to brag, but to contrast. How much Soylent do I need for a similar (or better, as you’ll find) effect: 600ml (20oz.), which is about 670 calories. However, the oddity of satiety with Soylent is that, for me at least, there isn’t any beyond the first 15-30 minutes; just an empty stomach. As a result, the first few days are misery. Your stomach will be screaming for more food, however, after acclimatizing a few days, it’ll eventually tame itself. (The first few days are tough; there’s no whitewashing that. In fairness, Rosa Labs gently warn you to slowly dive in and find a balance that suits you.)
It is a profoundly odd feeling having an empty stomach and not being hungry. It feels like your stomach isn’t working, yet feeling completely satisfied. For example, as I’m writing this, it has been 4½ hours since my breakfast Soylent meal (hereafter referred to as smeal), and I’m only now feeling the opening pangs of hunger, and my stomach has been empty for 3-4 hours. (I could easily go another hour before I have to eat, though more likely, I’ll take my next smeal within 30 minutes.) So, between eating my healthy, fibrous compliment of vegetables, that keeps my satisfied for about 2-3 hours; a serving of Soylent will keep me going about 4-5 hours. (When I make a habit of eating garbage, it is more like 2 hours between meals.)
Do You Miss Food?
Soylent will give you cravings…end of story. As human beings, we have evolved over millions of years to have a strong preference for food, chewing, taste, spices, aroma, and the satisfying feeling of satiety. It wasn’t until the two-week mark when the cravings were becoming under my rational control and I could say “no” with some regularity. However, I consider this a benefit in Soylent’s favour. Let’s face it, aside from sweets, we acclimatize to our food (especially the ones we make day-in-day-out). The foods we eat are rarely a new thing, and although certain foods can be, the majority of food one eats day-to-day is decidedly average for the simple reason they are common.
After having been on Soylent for just a few days, all food took on magical properties. (The first pizza I had after a few days of smealing was divine mouth-watering goodness.) Those meals where I did eat conventional meals (from here on out: meals = normal food; Soylent meal = smeal) bought forth new flavors, aromas, and feelings that I have only had earlier with novel foods (my most recent experience was with Thai food…I was just gobsmacked by how good Thai food in Thailand is). As I said above, I am still in the process of giving in to some cravings prematurely (especially sweets), but all in all, Soylent makes food taste fantastic! Soylent seems designed for this purpose: eat healthy food during those times, i.e. breakfast, when you want extra time or just a quick, heathy way to start your day, and, during social occasions, regular ol’ delicious food that tastes all the better.
While eventually the intensity of the foods diminish, in general, meals still taste better on a majority Soylent diet than not. That first week, however, is amazing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a week-long 100% Soylent diet fad in the near-future for the sole purpose of having a few days of food-assisted ecstasy.
How Does it Make you Feel?
I have one food day a week, generally Saturday, where I set Soylent aside and spend the day eating (the first Saturday was a blur of chocolate, ice cream, and crepes). Having this Soylent-free day also allows me to contrast both how food and Soylent make me feel, and, I’ve learned since, to appreciate the beneficial aspects of both. I don’t want to be solely in one camp or the other; rather, I want the best of both worlds. In this case: the ease and nutrition of Soylent; and the deliciousness and sociability of food.
Soylent is very light on the stomach, and this affects my energy levels for the better. While consuming it, I’ve never had a post-lunch energy crash…ever. which is a routine occurrence with food, especially of the heavier type (I can only go so long without my wife’s sausage-infused risotto). On food-heavy days, generally, I’ll feel a stronger urge to take one of those afternoon naps, and just have lower energy overall. Today (as I write this paragraph it is 1pm) I’ve been up since 730am and finished breakfast by 740am (!!), and… I’m just coasting. (Coasting is a really good thing when there is an 8-month old crawling around the house putting everything in his mouth).
It’s hard to describe the positive aspect of ‘feeling light,’ because it is not really at all what it sounds like. It is simply the absence of feeling heavy, and that is harder to put into words; you just feel normal. (It’s like saying one is not feeling murderous; there is no way to describe that.) Having your stomach remain mostly empty between meals is confusing; horridly so in the first week. To sum up: Soylent makes you even, or, perhaps a better way to put it, stable.
Soylent is great: it saves time (breakfast alone used to cost me 45 minutes), is healthy (as far as I can tell), and keeps one even throughout the day from an energy perspective. Perhaps the best aspect: it makes food taste divine, and I even find that the taste is growing on me. With that, I can only imagine that it will get better in the future with the Silicon Valley roots of the company. As I finish writing this up, Rosa Labs has just announced animal-free vegan-friendly Soylent v1.2. I look forward to what this company produces in the future.
If you have any questions that I didn’t address, please feel free to leave a comment below.
Footnotes: 1 - The reason I lowered my daily consumption of Soylent was simply to make it last longer. I have two months of Soylent, with no means to buy more for the foreseeable future as I've moved abroad. At 33% of my daily requirements, it'll last me 6 months instead of 3.