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Soylent may have little mass appeal — it seems safe to assume most people enjoy eating food — but those that do drink the bready formula regularly have coalesced into a tight knit community. And one thing that community loves to do, and has done since its earliest days, before the pre-mixed Soylent 2.0 debuted, is share recipes. Most of the media attention to Soylent has focused on the off-the-shelf version. But we wanted to see what it tasted like done up right. You know, the kind of Soylent your grandmother might make for Thanksgiving.
Since its inception, Soylent has been an "open source" food project. The ingredients and ratios and methods were released, iteration by iteration, in blog posts, and read by people who wanted in on the high-efficiency diet.
This explains much of why Silicon Valley investors are interested in Soylent, not just because it is a product that can "disrupt" food, but because of its community. In a blog post, Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon likened the Soylent drinkers to GoPro users. (Andreessen Horowitz is an investor in BuzzFeed.)
"Investors decided not to invest in GoPro because they saw it as a camera company, and camera companies generally get quickly commoditized," Dixon wrote. "However, investors who properly understood GoPro saw it primarily as a highly engaged community of sports enthusiasts, something that is very hard for competitors to replicate."
So, if we're looking at Soylent as the potential future of food, the collective abilities of its "community of people who are enthusiastic about using science to improve food and nutrition," as Dixon — who ended up investing in Soylent — describes it, are just as important as the original product.
The DIY Soylent forums are what happens when that community comes together to work on improving Soylent. Or, at least, changing it, often drastically. Perusing the forums for recipes turns up some provocative possibilities. While some are optimized for weight loss or gain, or other useful properties, many are just downright creative, seeming to exist for the sheer possibility of their own existence. Soylent that tastes like an Orange Julius? A possibility. Who hasn't daydreamed, at one time or another, of subsisting entirely on "Chocolate Silk?" And, for pure ingenuity, you have to appreciate a Corn and Bean Pudding Soylent recipe.
Both "Tortilla Perfection!" and "Liquid Cake" are popular on the Soylent forums — the Tortilla variation actually has the most comments of any DIY recipe — and featured mostly easy-to-get ingredients. The recipes on the forum are meant for bulk consumption — usually several days' worth at least — so buying ingredients the just to sample recipes is difficult. Usually, if you pick one, it's a commitment. But, then again, subsiding on Soylent is quite the commitment in and of itself.
Eight BuzzFeed employees sat down to try Soylent variants, most for the first time, although none were anything of a Soylent connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination. So, the original recipe was included to establish a baseline for the taste test. We set up a 360-degree camera on the table in our office kitchen, handed out the cups of Soylent, and recorded the whole thing in virtual reality (kinda).
To kick things off, we tried the powdered, off the shelf version of Soylent. It did not go well. Soylent was described as "bready," and "more moist than water," and the overall sentiment was that the formula was bland and the thick, cloying texture left much to be desired. A little like drinking pancake batter, or something similar.
People's Chow: "Tortilla Perfection!"
For most of the DIY recipes, you simply take original Soylent and use that as a base for a new recipe — harnessing its blandness to layer on flavors. Tortilla Perfection! is a frontrunner on the forum, with over 1,400 comments, a series of improved formulas (we used version 3.0.2), and an intriguing flavor profile. Add the promise of a Soylent variant that billed itself as "nutritionally complete," "relatively inexpensive," and "fart-free," and we had our main course. To make Tortilla Perfection, you need:
- Masa Harina (a corn flour)
- a Whey Protein Isolate
- GNC Mega Men® Sport - Vanilla Bean
- soybean oil
- and some supplements like Potassium Citrate and Choline Bitartrate
The additions did not improve the Soylent. It was sandy — although mixing in a blender might have solved the textural issues — and had a mealy flavor that was stronger than the original recipe, but in a way that makes you realize that maybe bland is the best option for Soylent. It was so thick that for an instant after swallowing, it stopped in my throat, which caused me to experience a moment of strong, but thankfully brief, panic. Would not recommend.
For the dessert course, we opted for a dessert Soylent. In this case, Liquid Cake. A significant portion of the DIY forums are dedicated to sweetening the formula, and this was a relatively sober-sounding option. To make it, you need:
- a lot of vanilla-flavored whey protein
- ultra fine oats (the recipe recommends Scottish oats)
- Psyllium Husk powder (the brand we got? "Colon Pure")
- rapeseed oil
- and a host of multivitamins and supplements
Liquid Cake fared, by far, the best of the three. "It tastes like cake batter" seemed to be the overwhelming sentiment. And by "tastes like," that also means "feel like." Liquid Cake does, in fact, taste like you're drinking a vanilla-y cake batter directly from a mixing bowl. So better, sure, but still not great.
The panel was mixed on whether it was improved by whiskey.
Brendan Klinkenberg is a tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Brendan Klinkenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ainsley Sutherland was a 2015-2016 fellow in BuzzFeed's Open Lab for Journalism, Technology, and the Arts.
Contact Ainsley Sutherland at email@example.com.
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