Soylent (meal replacement)
|Place of origin||United States|
|Region or state||Los Angeles, California|
|Associated national cuisine||None|
|Created by||Rob Rhinehart|
|Serving temperature||Refrigerated or room temperature|
|Main ingredients||Water, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, high-oleic algal oil, isomaltulose, canola oil, rice starch, and oat fiber|
|400 (pre-mixed 414 ml liquid or powder) kcal|
In January 2013, software engineer Rob Rhinehart purchased 35 chemical ingredients—including potassium gluconate, calcium carbonate, monosodium phosphate, maltodextrin, olive oil—all of which he deemed to be necessary for survival, based on his readings of biochemistry textbooks and U.S. government websites. Rhinehart used to view food as a time-consuming hassle and had resolved to treat it as an engineering problem. He blended the ingredients with water and consumed only this drink for the next thirty days. Over the course of the next two months, he adjusted the proportions of the ingredients to counter various health issues and further refined the formula. Rhinehart claimed a host of health benefits from the drink and noted that it had greatly reduced his monthly food bill, which fell from about US$470 to $155, and the time spent behind the preparation and consumption of food while providing him greater control over his nutrition.
Soylent is named after a food in Harry Harrison's 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! In the novel, most types of soylent are made from soy and lentils, hence the name of the product, a combination of "soy" and "lent". The word also evokes the 1973 film adaptation Soylent Green, in which the eponymous food is made from human remains. Rhinehart also says he chose the name, with its morbid associations, to pique curiosity and deeper investigation, since the name was clearly not chosen with a traditionally "flashy" marketing scheme in mind.
In 2013, a community of people interested in making their own Soylent emerged online, attracted by the ability to customize nutrition precisely to each person's unique needs. Another software engineer, Nick Poulden, founded the web site diy.soylent.me (now www.completefoods.co), where users shared the results of their own tinkering with the Soylent recipe. Users could enter a nutritional profile and select a recipe, after which the web site would calculate exact proportions of each ingredient to yield the desired intake of each nutrient. Zach Alexander, a former professional cook, made a Soylent formula mostly from ingredients available at grocery stores rather than laboratory supply houses, which he calls Hackerschool Soylent.
A commercial venture
Rhinehart's blog posts about his experiment attracted attention on Hacker News, eventually leading to a crowdfunding campaign on Tilt that raised about $1.5 million in preorders aimed at moving the powdered drink from concept into production. It became one of the most funded crowdfunding projects ever accomplished. After the campaign, Soylent had venture capital financing for a seed round of $1.5 million to further develop proof of concept. Media reports detailed how operations began for Soylent Nutrition, Inc. in April 2014, using a relatively small $500 system to ship the first $2.6 million worth of product. In January 2015, Soylent received $20 million in Series A round funding, led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
Prior to June 2015, Soylent was only available for purchase and shipment to people in the United States. On June 15, 2015, the shipping of Soylent to Canada was introduced at the same price in U.S. dollars as for U.S. customers. Expansion to European countries is a stated future goal. In October 2017, Canada disallowed further shipments of Soylent due to a failure to meet Canadian food regulations on meal replacements.
In July 2017, Soylent was sold offline for the first time at 7-Eleven stores around Los Angeles. By April 2018, Soylent was sold in over 8,000 7-Elevens around the United States and is currently also sold at Walmart, Target, Kroger, and Meijer.
The makers of Soylent claim it contains the nutrients necessary for a healthy lifestyle. There may be social drawbacks of living on a Soylent-only diet, since some critics have said that it comes at the expense of the pleasures from eating and sharing food.
Some people have experienced gastrointestinal problems from consumption of Soylent, particularly flatulence. Speculation on the cause of such symptoms is sometimes centered around the amount of dietary fiber contained in the product, which is known to cause such symptoms when diets are abruptly altered to increase amounts of fiber consumption. Later versions of the product lowered the amount of fiber content, but this did not stop the reports of gastrointestinal problems. The lower fiber content of the product led to additional criticisms of not containing an adequate amount, compared to daily recommendations, leading some to utilize fiber supplementation.
As of October 24, 2017, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) blocked sales of Soylent from Canada because the label on Soylent does not meet the CFIA requirements to be listed as a meal replacement. Shipping Soylent to Canada had been blocked by the CFIA until Soylent Nutrition, Inc. made changes to its products; Canadian shipments first began in June 2015. Shipments to Canada resumed in Q2, 2020.
Lead and cadmium content
On August 13, 2015, nonprofit environmental and corporate social responsibility watchdog As You Sow filed a notice of intent to pursue a lawsuit against the makers of Soylent, claiming that Soylent did not adequately label its product given the levels of lead and cadmium present in the drink. The basis for the lawsuit lies in California's Proposition 65, a law that requires additional labeling for food products containing trace amounts of certain substances.
Although Soylent contains levels of lead and cadmium far below the national safety levels set by the FDA, it does contain 12 to 25 times the level of lead and 4 times the level of cadmium allowable in a product without additional labeling as specified by Proposition 65. A lawyer who has worked on settlements of Proposition 65 suits described the case as "alarmist", as the levels are well below FDA limits of what is allowed in food products. However, as Soylent is marketed as a complete meal replacement, many customers consume the drinks three times a day, equating to 36 to 75 times the lead and 12 times the level of cadmium without the Prop 65 label. Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in soft tissues and bones, and even at low levels is linked to nerve damage, lower IQ, and reproductive problems including decreased sperm count. Cadmium is also a toxic heavy metal and has been linked to kidney, liver, and bone damage.
Soylent's website displays the Proposition 65 warning required by California. Soylent Nutrition, Inc. published the position that the levels of heavy metal content in Soylent "are in no way toxic, and Soylent remains completely safe and nutritious". Soylent Nutrition, Inc. also published an infographic and spreadsheet based on an FDA study of heavy metal content in common foods, comparing two selected example meals to servings of Soylent with a similar amount of caloric intake. Both of the company's chosen comparison meals include high levels of cadmium and arsenic, along with levels of lead similar to those of Soylent; although one of them includes tuna and the other includes salmon, providing over 97% of the arsenic in each proposed meal, with spinach providing 74% of the cadmium in the higher-cadmium meal and fruit cocktail providing 71% of the lead in the higher-lead meal.
On October 12, 2016, the company announced it would halt sales of the Soylent Bar due to reports of gastrointestinal illness, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The company asked customers to discard any unconsumed bars and said it would offer full refunds. On October 21, 2016, the company triggered a product recall, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced it had commenced a food safety investigation.
On October 27, 2016, the company also halted sales of Soylent Powder. The company said tests on the bar had come back negative for contamination, but also said that some powder users had reported similar stomach-related symptoms from consuming the powder.
The company initially suspected soy or sucralose intolerance. However, on November 7, 2016, Soylent instead blamed algal flour for making people sick, and said it planned to remove algal flour from future formulations of the powders and bars, which it did in the next formulation version 1.7 introduced on December 15, 2016. The drink-based products use algal oil, not algal flour, so were deemed to be safe for users.
Flavor and product reviews
Soylent has gone through multiple iterations which have significantly changed flavor, texture, and nutritional ingredients since release.
Rhinehart called the flavor of the original versions "minimal", "broad" and "nonspecific". Soylent 1.0 contains soy lecithin and sucralose as masking flavors and to adjust appearance, texture and smell. Before version 1.4, vanillin was included as an ingredient for flavoring.
Reviews on the taste of powdered Soylent vary. One reviewer said he was "pleasantly surprised" with the "rich, creamy, and strangely satisfying" flavor, and another likened it to that of a vanilla milkshake with the texture of pancake batter. Negative reviewers said it tasted "like someone wrung out a dishtowel into a glass", said "my mouth tastes hot and like old cheese", or that it was "purposefully bland", "vile" and made the taster "gag" and compared the taste to "homemade nontoxic Play-Doh".
Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times said he "found Soylent to be a punishingly boring, joyless product". Chris Ziegler of The Verge, who experimented with subsisting only on Soylent for almost a month, said that although he liked and "never really tired of the flavor", he still concluded that "Soylent isn't living, it's merely surviving", and described the apple he ate at the end of that period as "my first meal back from the abyss" and the best he'd ever had in his life. Adrian Chen of Gawker said he "was having trouble getting it down", and eventually "dumped the whole thing in the sink".
Both Manjoo and Ziegler said they had experienced some gastrointestinal problems from drinking it. Lee Hutchinson of Ars Technica also reported a brief period of "adaptation gas" at the beginning of a four-day experiment.
- "Drink Nutrition – Original". Soylent official website. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
- "Powder Nutrition". Soylent official website. Retrieved 2017-02-11.
- Hutchinson, Lee (October 21, 2013). "Soylent gets a $1.5 million infusion of venture capital". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2017-02-06.
- "How I Stopped Eating Food". Rob Rhinehart personal blog. February 13, 2013. Retrieved 2015-04-04.
- "The End of Food". The New Yorker. May 12, 2014. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
- Storr, Will (May 6, 2013). "The man who lives without food". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2013-05-13.
- Hannan, Caleb (July 18, 2013). "Could This Liquid Replace Food?". Popular Science. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
- "Why is it named Soylent?". Soylent Nutrition, Inc. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
- Varughese, Ansa (March 15, 2013). "Rob Rhinehart, 24, Creates Soylent: Why You Never Have To Eat Food Again". Medical Daily. Retrieved 2013-05-13.
- Hutchinson, Lee (September 15, 2013). "Ars does Soylent, the finale: Soylent dreams for people". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2017-02-08.
- Williams, Helena (May 7, 2014). "How to make your own DIY Soylent food". Wired. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
- Robertson, Adi (Sep 27, 2013). "DIY Soylent: upstart nutritionists fight the tyranny of food". The Verge. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
- Johnson, Theresa Christine (March 14, 2017). "The Fascinating Start to Future Food Brand Soylent". The Dieline. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
- Crowdfunding Darling Soylent Nets $1.5 Million In VC Funding. October 22, 2013
- Ballantyne, Alando (June 3, 2015). "How We Spent $500 on Tech to Ship $2.6M of Soylent". Medium.com.
- "Soylent Raises Money". Rob Rhinehart personal blog. January 14, 2015. Archived from the original on January 21, 2015. Retrieved 2015-01-22.
- "Soylent: Now Shipping to Canada". Soylent Blog. June 15, 2015.
- Kappler, Maija (October 25, 2017). "Meal replacement company Soylent has imports blocked in Canada". CTV News. Toronto. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
- "Soylent is being sold offline for the first time". The Verge. Retrieved 2017-09-06.
- "https://www.meijer.com/shop/en/beverages/coffee/k-cups/soylent-rtd-cacao-14-oz/p/85836900617". External link in
- "Soylent Meal Replacement Drinks Are Coming to Walmart".
- Hutchinson, Lee (29 January 2014). "Soylent gets tested, scores a surprisingly wholesome nutritional label". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2015-06-11.
However, nutrition testing done to gain the label established that Soylent meets the Food and Drug Administration's standards for a whole raft of healthy claims: "Everything from reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers to absence of tooth decay," said Rhinehart. Based on the testing, he explained, Soylent can make many of the health and nutrient claims that the FDA tracks.
- Ziegler, Chris (17 July 2014). "Soylent survivor: one month living on lab-made liquid nourishment". The Verge. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
Each box contains seven packets of powder – one per day – paired with seven bottles of a fish oil / canola oil blend.
- Manjoo, Farhad (May 28, 2014), "The Soylent Revolution Will Not Be Pleasurable", The New York Times
- Wiener-Bronner, Danielle (October 24, 2017). "Soylent meal replacement is banned in Canada". CNNMoney. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
- Houck, Brenna (16 August 2015). "Soylent Under Fire For Allegedly Failing to Provide Adequate Warnings On Its Labels". Eater. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
- "As You Sow Files Notice Of Legal Action Against Soylent Super Food". PR News Wire. 13 August 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-08-15.
- Westervelt, Amy (August 18, 2015). "Heavy metals prove all too common in meal replacement products, says watchdog group". The Guardian. London. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
- "Soylent FAQ: California Proposition 65".
- Mole, Beth (12 October 2016). "Soylent halts sale of bars; investigation into illnesses continues". Ars Technica. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
- Lomas, Natasha (13 October 2016). "Soylent Bars recalled after some customers get sick". TechCrunch. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
- "Food Recall Warning: Soylent brand Food Bar recalled due to reported illnesses". Canadian Food Inspection Agency. October 21, 2016. Retrieved October 24, 2016.
- "Soylent Thinks It Found What Was Making People Sick: Algae". Bloomberg Technology. November 7, 2016. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
- Soylent pulls Powder as part of probe into customer sickness Techcrunch, October 28, 2016
- Dave, Paresh (27 October 2016). "Soylent halts sales of its powder as customers keep getting sick". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
- Mole, Beth (12 October 2016). "People get "violently ill" from Soylent bars; company stumped". Ars Technica. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
- Mole, Beth (8 November 2016). "Solved: Algal flour was causing violent illnesses, Soylent says". Ars Technica. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
- Soylent blames algal flour for consumer complaints November 7, 2016. The Verge Retrieved November 7, 2016.
- "Powder 1.7 Now Shipping". Soylent Nutrition, Inc. December 15, 2016. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
- "Facts about recent media coverage on algal flour" (PDF). TerraVia. November 8, 2016. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
- "Stephen Colbert Taste Tests Soylent... And Finds It Delicious?", Inc., June 13, 2014,
Rhinehart described the "minimal flavor" as "broad" and "nonspecific"
- "Soylent: There is more to food than nutrition. Even a..." soylent.me. January 13, 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
- Soylent 1.4 begins shipping today., February 25, 2015, retrieved 20 March 2015
- Matthews, Dylan (March 14, 2013). "Rob Rhinehart has a crazy plan to let you go without food forever. It just might work". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-02-08.
- Love, Dylan (July 14, 2014), "Soylent Review", Business Insider
- "We Drank Soylent, The Weird Food of the Future", Gawker, May 19, 2013, retrieved 2017-02-05
- Mahdawi, Arwa (8 February 2016), "Mansplain it to Me: inside the Stupid Hackathon for extremely stupid ideas", The Guardian, retrieved 8 February 2016
- "I gave up breakfast for a week and drank this caffeinated meal-replacement shake instead".
- "Soylent Nectar Review - Take Risks Be Happy". 9 January 2017.
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