Soylent is a brand of meal replacement products that are advertised for consumption as "staple meals", and is available in the U.S. (formerly in Canada) as a pre-mixed beverage or in powdered form for mixing with water. It was introduced in 2014 after a crowdfunding campaign that generated nearly $1.5 million in preorders.
Its producer, Rosa Foods, says that Soylent meets all nutritional requirements for an average adult. Initial recipes were first created and tested by software engineer Rob Rhinehart as a self-experiment in nutrition. Subsequently, the powdered version of Soylent was developed into the first product line of Rosa Foods, which currently markets and sells the product. For about two months in late 2016, the company also marketed a solid-form meal bar under the brand name as well, but it was discontinued after reports that it caused gastrointestinal problems for some consumers. Sales of the powdered version were also halted briefly in late 2016 before the product was reformulated and its sales resumed.
Rosa Foods said the current formulation is based on recommendations of the National Academy of Medicine. They established an FDA nutrition facts label and said the product meets the criteria for some health-related claims. Rosa Foods also states that Soylent includes all of the elements of a healthy diet, without excess amounts of sugar, saturated fat or cholesterol.
The makers of Soylent say it contains all the nutritional requirements 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 symptoms from consumption of Soylent. Speculation on the cause of such symptoms 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.
In October 2016, Rosa Foods recalled Soylent Bars due to reports of gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The company is reported to have actively researched the issue with an independent party and suspected soy or sucralose intolerance. However, the company later concluded that algal flour was the cause after reviewing similar reports on Soylent 1.6 (powder), and was reformulating products to remove it. The company halted the sales of Soylent 1.6 after concluding so. TerraVia, the supplier of Soylent's algal ingredients, published a fact sheet in response to media coverage for its algal flour. In December 2016, Soylent released a new iteration of its powdered formula, Soylent 1.7, which no longer contains algal flour.
As of October 24, 2017, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) banned Soylent drinks from Canada on the premise that the "meal replacement" label on Soylent do not meet the nutritional needs of a meal replacement due to the fat content. Shipments of Soylent have been blocked by the CFIA until Rosa Foods makes changes to its products.
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 acceptable level of lead and 12 times the level of cadmium. 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 required Proposition 65 warning. Rosa Foods published the position that the levels of heavy metal content in Soylent "are in no way toxic, and Soylent remains completely safe and nutritious". Rosa Foods 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.
As You Sow said that, since Soylent is marketed as a complete replacement for all other meals, these levels may be harmful. The claim is of levels allowable concerning reproductive toxicity, which are considerably lower than levels allowable concerning poisoning or carcinogenicity.
On October 12, 2016, the company announced it would halt sales of the Soylent Bar due to reports of gastrointestinal illness. 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.
On November 7, 2016, Soylent 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, called version 1.7, which was introduced on December 15, 2016. The drink-based products use algal oil, not algal flour, so are deemed to be safe for users.
Flavor and product reviews
Rhinehart called the flavor of the original versions "minimal", "broad" and "nonspecific". Soylent 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 "Soylent looks as appetizing as it sounds. The combination of its off-white color, opacity and viscosity made it look – sorry to be gross here – like watered-down semen." He said he "was having trouble getting it down", and eventually "dumped the whole thing in the sink".
Nellie Bowles of The Guardian criticized the purported novelty of the product, saying "There's nothing inherently different about Soylent from SlimFast at all. And yet SlimFast is low-brow, funny and a little sad", while Soylent is considered new and innovative, "almost as though SlimFast never existed, like Soylent emerged from the ether." Similarly, Jay Mirtallo, a professor of pharmacy at Ohio State University, said the product is basically the same thing as medical food products that have been available from such makers as Nestlé and Abbott Laboratories for some time. Mirtallo expressed concern at the self-designed nature of the product, saying "They're very complex products, in terms of making sure you get them in a form that's palatable but that stays in a form that's bioavailable to the body" and "There are real downsides to trying this stuff at home."
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.
On February 13, 2013, Rob Rhinehart detailed his initial 30-day experiment in food replacement on his blog before later sharing the nutritional information and original formula for interested parties. Posts to his blog over the next two months detailed modifications to his personal formula.
Rhinehart's initiative became 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 Rosa Foods 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.
Versions of Soylent prior to "version 1.4" (introduced in February 2015) consisted not only of powder to be mixed with water, but also bottles of oil to mix in as well. The formulas for versions 1.4–1.7 were published. A ready-to-drink version, introduced in September 2015, is called version 2.0.
Prior to June 2015, Soylent was only available for purchase and shipment to people in the U.S. 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 due to a failure to meet Canadian food regulations.
In July 2015, Rosa Foods announced it would move its corporate headquarters to Broadway Media Center, located in downtown Los Angeles. In May 2017, Soylent received $50 million in Series B round funding, led by Google Ventures. In August 2017, Rosa Foods began moving its headquarters into the At Mateo building located in LA's Arts District.
Versions and formulas
In the first week of May 2014, the first shipments of orders of Soylent 1.0 began. There have been subsequent changes, each called a new "version". Since Soylent 1.2 in November 2014, all versions have been vegan (i.e., containing no eggs, dairy, or other animal-derived substances). Version 1.4, introduced in February 2015, used a carbohydrate/fat/protein calorie ratio of 43/40/17, based on the advice of F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, a professor of medicine at Columbia University. Version 1.5, introduced in June 2015, further adjusted the ratio to 45/40/15, and has a glycemic index of 65 and a glycemic load of 35.
On August 3, 2015, the company announced "Soylent 2.0", which was the first ready-to-drink Soylent product introduced by the company. The pre-mixed product comes in a 400 calorie bottle and debuted on September 9, 2015.
On August 9, 2016, the company announced and started selling "Coffiest", that is a combination of the liquid version of Soylent, coffee flavoring, caffeine and l-theanine. A solid, salted caramel flavored meal bar named "Soylent Bar" was also announced at the same time, and went on sale August 16, 2016.
On December 26, 2016, Soylent flavors Cacao and Nectar were added to Amazon.com through the Soylent account prior to being added to the official website. The nutritional content is similar to Soylent 2.0. The official announcement of the new flavors was made on the Soylent blog on January 3, 2017, after which the flavors were also offered for sale on the official website; Soylent 2.0 was renamed to Soylent Original in this announcement.
On June 27, 2017, Soylent added the caffeinated flavors of Cafe Vanilla, that is Coffiest flavored with vanilla, and Cafe Chai, the liquid version of Soylent with chai flavoring, to the Soylent Cafe lineup along with the previously released Coffiest, which was renamed Cafe Coffiest.
|Soylent 1.0||First full version. Ingredients were finalized in January 2014, which use rice as the protein source and shipments began in April (vegan) and May (regular) of 2014.||Early 2014|
|Soylent 1.1||The sucralose was decreased, giving it a more neutral flavor, and new digestive enzymes were added.||October 2, 2014|
|Soylent 1.2||Omega-3 fatty acid from fish sources was replaced with omega-3 from algae, making the drink suitable for vegans and the enzymes added in Soylent 1.1 were removed.||November 10, 2014|
|Soylent 1.3||Dipotassium phosphate was added and shipping box sizes were reduced.||December 11, 2014|
|Soylent 1.4||Fats were incorporated into the powder that eliminated the need for the oil bottles, resulting in less packaging required in the shipping boxes. It used a carb/fat/protein calorie ratio of 43/40/17, isomaltulose was added and gum acacia was removed.||February 25, 2015|
|Soylent 1.5||Improvements to texture from a reduction to oat flour and an addition of emulsifiers. Removal of powdered safflower and flaxseed oil which were both replaced by canola oil powder, supplementing the existing powdered high oleic sunflower oil and algal oil.||June 1, 2015|
|Soylent 1.6||Uses whole algal flour, high oleic algal oil and soy protein isolate that replaces brown rice protein. 45% lipids, 20% protein, and 35% low-glycemic carbohydrates, closer to Soylent 2.0 macronutrients. (Discontinued in October 2016 after reports of gastrointestinal problems.)||June 23, 2016|
|Soylent 1.7||Reformulated to have a more neutral flavor profile and it removes algal flour in favor of more algal oil.||December 15, 2016|
|Soylent 1.8||The fiber source shifts from isomaltooligosaccharide to soluble corn fiber. Replaces all algal ingredients with high oleic canola creamer. Usage of gums is halved. Serving size is same while weight per serving increased.||March 13, 2017|
|Original (previously named "Soylent 2.0")||First pre-mixed Soylent liquid product and it alters the carb/fat/protein ratios to 33/47/20; it has a glycemic index of 49.2 and a glycemic load of 16.7. About half of the lipid calories come from algal sources and it uses soy for its protein source.||September 9, 2015|
|Cacao||Chocolate-flavored Soylent with a similar nutrition profile to Soylent Original.||December 26, 2016|
|Nectar||Fruit-flavored Soylent with a similar nutrition profile to Soylent Original. Ceased production in August 2017.||December 26, 2016 (Discontinued)|
The Cafe line consists of ready-to-drink Soylent mixed with caffeine, L-theanine, and different flavorings.
|Cafe Coffiest (previously named "Coffiest")||Has coffee flavoring, ~150 mg of caffeine from coffee powder per serving and 75 mg of L-theanine.||August 9, 2016|
|Cafe Vanilla||Has coffee and vanilla flavoring, ~150 mg caffeine from coffee powder and 75 mg of L-theanine.||June 7, 2017|
|Cafe Chai||Has chai flavoring, ~30 mg caffeine from black tea powder and 25 mg of L-theanine.||June 7, 2017|
|Soylent Bar 1.0||First solid-form Soylent product at 250 calories. Introduced with a carb/fat/protein calorie ratio of 43/38/19. Has a glycemic index of 55 and a glycemic load of 13. Introduced in salted caramel flavor. (Recalled and production suspended in October 2016 after reports of gastrointestinal problems.)||August 16, 2016 (Discontinued)|
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 soya and lentils. The word is, however, also a tongue-in-cheek reference to the novel's 1973 film adaptation Soylent Green, in which the green version of the eponymous food supplement is made from human remains.
Coffiest is named after an extremely habit-forming drink in the 1952 science fiction novel The Space Merchants, by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth, which gets every customer "hooked for life".