There is more to food than nutrition. Even a product as minimal as Soylent must concern itself with the “hedonic” aspects of eating. These include, but are not limited to: appearance, taste, texture, and flavor / odor. Many foods are designed only for hedonic aspects, largely disregarding nutrition. Soylent is designed with nutrition as its primary constraint, with hedonic properties that will diverge and improve over time. It is easy to make something very sweet or salty. What is difficult is providing such a broad balance so as to be pleasant without being overly specific. We are confident that you will be quite satisfied with the taste of Soylent. These are the current ingredients that are used for applications.
Soy Lecithin (6g) - Lecithins, often used in baking, have emulsification properties. Soylent is a colloid that combines substances that are normally immiscible. Emulsifiers like lecithin allow for a homogenous mixture of what would normally separate immediately. Lecithins are a mixture of different fatty substances and choline, and are completely metabolized by the body. While derived from soy, lecithin is completely isolated from proteins and phytoestrogens from the plant and thus is safe for consumption by those with a soy allergy.
Gum Arabic (4.5g) - Also known as gum acacia, gum arabic is a naturally-occurring product made from the hardened sap of two different species of the acacia tree native to Africa and West Asia. It is a complex mixture of glycoproteins and polysaccharides that functions primarily as a stabilizer, preventing materials of different solubility from separating. Gum Arabic is metabolized by gut bacteria and is thus a form of fiber.
Vanillin (1.8g) - Vanillin is an organic compound that is the primary component of vanilla bean extract and responsible for the signature “vanilla” taste that has been utilized in recipes for its flavor properties since the days of the pre-Columbian mesoamericans. Natural vanilla extract is more rare, expensive, and contains many other compounds in addition to vanillin. Synthetically produced vanillin typically results in a more pure product. We chose to go with the synthetic route because of the cost savings and the fact that either way the molecule responsible for the flavoring, vanillin, is chemically identical when produced by either process.
Sucralose (60mg) - Several nutritional essentials such as vitamins and minerals taste unpleasantly bitter in their bare form. Due to this, and the desire for a pleasant user experience, a small amount of the popular sweetener Sucralose is included in order to balance out the taste. The small amount, rather than making the product taste noticeably sweet, simply serves to provide a more “complete” taste profile that we are confident you will enjoy.
Sucralose is a sweetener made by replacing three of the hydroxyl (OH) groups of table sugar (sucrose) with chlorine. These chemical changes prevent sucralose from being metabolized and turned into calories that may be consumed by the body the same way that sucrose normally would. Incidentally, it is also hundreds of times more sweet than sucrose.
We have approximately 60 mg of sucralose in a day’s serving of Soylent, which is within the average intake of 1.1 mg/kg/day, and well with the recommended daily limit of 5 mg/kg/day. Interestingly, the acceptable daily limit intakes were established by examining the no observed effect levels in rats (which the pharmacokinetic data demonstrated in many studies to respond very similarly to humans) of 500 mg/kg/day, and multiplying by a 1/100 safety factor. According to Alexandra L. Jenkins, PhD RD and director of research at Glycemic Research Laboratories, Sucralose does not affect insulin levels. Sucralose also does not accumulate in the body, is non-cariogenic, non-carcinogenic, and does not trigger any allergic reactions.
update 1: Soylent Discourse user tyroney calculated the grams of sugar (or equivalent) per 8 fl. oz. serving for Soylent and a number of other beverages, we think it provides an excellent idea of Soylent 1.0’s relative sweetness:
7 Almond Breeze Original Almond milk
12 Two-percent milk
17.5 Vanilla Latte (Starbucks)
26 Coca-cola Classic
Sweeteners including sucralose have and continue to be a contentious issue for a variety of reasons, most notably anecdotal evidence that has largely been refuted by peer reviewed studies. Industry groups such as the Sugar Association have funded a few studies that, while lacking scientific rigor, show adverse effects at many times the levels recommended by the FDA. Too much of anything is bad. In surveying the landscape of sweeteners we chose sucralose primarily due to the large number of safety studies in both animals and humans. Its time on the market has even allowed for safety studies spanning several years. Combined with its properties of high water solubility, high stability under heat and acidic conditions, and pleasant taste profile, we consider sucralose an ideal ingredient for incorporation into our formula as well as DIY blends.
update 2: The following is excerpted from Rob’s response to some concerns raised on the Soylent forums regarding this post:
The amount of vanillin is too small to trigger the recognition of a vanilla flavor. This is not “soylent vanilla”, we just needed something to mask the bitter and fishy ingredients. The slightest amount of any additional flavorings will easily overwrite the extremely subtle flavor.
Sucralose is at a much, much lower concentration in Soylent than any other product to my knowledge that uses the sweetener. If you dislike the aftertaste of a specific product I recommend trying the ingredient in different surroundings. I am familiar with the distinct aftertaste of some sweetened products, and personally did not recognize it in our sample. The overall level of sweetness is extremely low. Imagine (or try) adding 19g of sucrose to 2L of water.
As for the concerns that everything artificial is bad, the evidence for the safety and usefulness of sucralose is overwhelming. A google search will yield equal parts pseudoscientific fearmongering, and reams of scientific data overwhelmingly showing it to be completely safe for consumption, even given a safety factor of 100. Even if not ideal, sucralose is certainly superior to a comparable quantity of sugar.
Beside user experience, I hope that we can also allay some of the baseless concerns mostly spread by the sugar industry that sweeteners are worrisome. Given the health burden imposed by the amount of natural sugar consumed in the United States, and increasingly in other countries with American soft drink imports, it would be a gain for the general populous to become more comfortable with sweeteners that do not impact their teeth, weight, or blood sugar, nor impose the vast environmental burden of sugar crops.
@wingedwolfpsion anecdotal evidence of intolerance of sucralose has not been replicated in controlled studies. If it does apply to a small subset of the population, it is likely that it would take a much larger amount than is present in Soylent to trigger an effect, especially given it is mixed with so many ingredients that the body likes. Worst case, new sweeteners are still being developed (I’m personally bullish on neotame) that may alleviate even these concerns. If a superior sweetener hits the market we will switch to it.
I understand the reservations but I strongly encourage you to try it, even if you have had a bad experience with a much different product such as Splenda. I am pleasantly surprised with how well the final version turned out, and it is only going to get better.
As always, we look forward to your feedback regarding the above. We encourage you to contribute to the Soylent discourse here.