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A while back, Chris Ziegler of The Verge wrote about a fascinating food replacement called Soylent. The idea of drinking every meal has seemed like something of science fiction, partially thanks to the rise of meals in pill form, popular in 1920s and 30s media. Soylent is probably not the first to attempt full food replacement, but they are getting a lot of attention right now. When Chris wrote another quick review of the most recent update, version 1.4 (yes, they're updating food like software), my curiosity finally got the better of me. I placed an order.

bags of Soylent powder, metal scoop and plastic pitcher

I started the meal replacement this weekend, easing into it as suggested in the release notes (the helpful manual that comes with it). I am easing into at a pretty accelerated pace, though. The manual suggests taking three days to ramp up to consuming Soylent for 50% of your food. I'm going all-in after 3 days to test a work week on Soylent. If that sounds terrifying, don't worry. The reason they suggest slowly increasing your consumption of Soylent is because most people's diets are not meticulously balanced for a wide range of nutrients and high in fiber. Like any significant diet change, changing things up cold turkey could be an unpleasant experience. I'm still not sure if changing things up this quickly is the best idea, but I'm set on testing a "normal" week, so accelerated adoption it is.

I will not, however, be consuming nothing but Soylent. I've been trying (and succeeding!), to gain weight and need to regularly consume 2,500 calories or more a day. One package of Soylent, or one day's worth of food, provides 2,000 calories, so I will need to eat some additional snacks between meals. My meals, however, will be Soylent all week long. This weekend, I've been having it for a couple meals a day (I'm drinking dinner as I write), and it's actually not that bad.

The powder itself is very fine, with a consistency very similar to regular flour. My first impression of the smell reminded me of cake batter. It absolutely had a sweet scent to it.

Mixing it was a fun experience. It comes with a scoop (that conveniently scoops it in 250-calorie increments), as well as a 2-quart pitcher to make a full day's worth at once. After filling the pitcher halfway with water, simply dump the whole bag into it, seal the lid and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Pouring the powered into it is easier said than done. I made a bit of a mess, as you'll see in the photo below. I did find that bending over slightly and shaking the pitcher with a side-to-side motion was really effective in breaking up any initial clumping without killing my arms, though. After the first round of shaking, fill to the top with water, shake for another 30 seconds or until all clumps are broken up. Chill for 2-3 hours (or pour over ice) and you're ready to drink it.

Soylent powder covering top of plastic pitcher and spilled onto a countertop

The resulting mixture has a smell that still reminds me of cake or cookie batter, though the twinge of sweetness it had is no longer present. The taste is very similar. The closest thing I can think of is unsweetened cookie dough, which isn't that terrible. The flavor of Soylent is not at all the biggest hurdle in consuming it. That would be the texture.

The drink has a consistency like a thick milkshake, but the texture isn't smooth and creamy like a great milkshake. Instead, it's gritty. Like, really gritty. If you can imagine drinking very watery mud made from extremely fine sand, you've got a pretty good idea what this is like. It was a little jarring at first, but now that I'm on my third meal with it, it's not too bad. I've found that taking larger gulps spaced a couple minutes apart is a pretty pleasurable way to consume it. I would not recommend chugging it. Throwing that much thick liquid in your stomach at once would probably be a mistake. I take about 10-15 minutes to drink the whole thing. One 16oz glass is a 500 calorie meal.

glass of mixed Soylent next to near-full pitcher of Soylent

So far I haven't noticed any digestive distress, nor the dangerous levels of gas earlier adopters experienced. These are all issues Soylent has been working through with their frequent updates. The latest version has some important changes to help combat this more specifically, like reducing the fiber content. It also changed sweeteners from sucrose to isomaltulose, a longer-burning sugar that doesn't cause the same spikes in blood sugar you experience when eating sucrose. This change also allowed them to increase the amount of salt to meet recommended sodium minimums.

I don't yet know how this will play out when I'm eating primarily Soylent, but so far the experience has been pretty positive. A 16oz glass does keep me sustained for a good amount of time. Whether or not that will be the case when I eat it more frequently remains to be seen. Expect another update at the end of the week.

bag of Soylent powder, release notes manual and plastic pitcher