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The Weird Subculture Of Gourmet Soylent

Soylent 2.0 was meant to replace food, but it's blah on its own—which is why people are hacking it to make it more food-like.

The Weird Subculture Of Gourmet Soylent

Soylent 2.0 is here. While versions 1.0 and 1.5 of the powder-based food substitute had to be mixed with water, this new and improved version—which started shipping in October—comes in a ready-to-drink bottle. Like the earlier iterations of the product, it holds the same promise of offering all the necessary nutrients for a healthy diet, without all the hassles that come with regular food: the cost; the time it takes to purchase, prepare, and clean up; the environmental impact, even the effort of chewing.

Soylent Ingredients

Rob Rhinehart invented Soylent three years ago in an elaborate experiment that he documented on his blog. His goal was to create a post-food existence, since he believes that humanity's dependence on eating food is a huge waste of resources. In 2015, Rhinehart's company raised $20 million in funding at a $100 million valuation, which went toward creating 2.0.

Graham Perich, a 22-year old marketing executive who lives in San Diego, is a typical Soylent drinker. He's not particularly interested in creating a post-food future straight out of a science fiction novel. He heard some buzz about Soylent in the news and decided to give the product a try, thinking it would be a good breakfast replacement. "What I like about it is that it's not designed to build muscle or lose weight," he says, contrasting it to products like Muscle Milk or SlimFast. "It just has all the nutrients you need for a balanced meal." But he found it a bit of a drag to mix the 1.5 powder into a beverage, so he was excited when 2.0 bottles came out. He now has a recurring subscription.

But there's still an issue with Soylent 2.0, which is that it tastes just as blah as the powdered version, like a very thick soy milk with a paint-like consistency. Rhinehart specifically designed Soylent to taste neutral, thinking that it would ensure people wouldn't get bored with the flavor, but one of the major complaints about the product is that it is hard to be satiated on something that tastes like creamy sawdust. On Reddit, where there's an active community of Soylent drinkers, there are many comments along these lines:

I used it exclusively for about 10 days and I loved it at first, by about day seven the thought of it nauseated me and I thought I was going to have to give it up. I started having a light evening meal and now I'm back to enjoying again. I think this is a plan that will work for me.

There's a whole subculture on discussion boards where fans of the drink are experimenting with ingredients and trade recipes, which defeats one of the main goals of Soylent, which is to save time and serve as a meal replacement. Perich, for instance, was drinking Soylent to make meals easier, rather than more complicated. "If I had time to put together an entire complex recipe at breakfast, I wouldn't need Soylent," he says.

For some die-hard Soylent drinkers, it's simply a matter of making the beverage tolerable so that it can be consumed continuously for days. In response to the above Reddit comment, for instance, one person recommended incorporating cinnamon or allspice into Soylent for some variety. I tried the spiced-up Soylent, and it did add a new dimension of flavor to the drink; it tasted a bit like a fall-themed milkshake, but without being overly sweet.

There are people who incorporate Soylent into smoothies, like a supplement or an alternative to protein powder; each bottle contains 20g of protein, plus 20% of the daily required vitamins and minerals. I tried several crowdsourced smoothie recipes. I found that adding a tablespoon of coconut milk complements the creaminess of the drink, then adding frozen banana and mango made for a pretty tasty lunch.

In some recipes, Soylent is mixed into pancake or waffle batter, to make for a more nutritious breakfast. People have also incorporated it into more savory meals. One person blends it with red peppers and broccoli for gazpacho-like soup, but I wasn't brave enough to try that.

These culinary discussions haven't escaped Soylent's attention. In fact, the company has decided to join the conversation by inviting chef Julie Beth Tanous to develop a range of smoothies using Soylent that include ingredients like thyme and swiss chard.

As Soylent matures as a brand, it seems to be moving further away from Rhinehart's original vision. For most consumers, Soylent isn't going to replace three meals a day anytime soon, and the company seems to understand this. For many, it's now another ingredient in the cooking process, to incorporate more balanced nutrition. And even for those who like its time-saving qualities, like Perich, it's only ever going to replace one meal of the day. "I now pick one up as I go out the door to the office together with some coffee," he says. "It allows me to have part of my morning back."