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How to Make a Soylent Sandwich

Soylent promises to be cheaper and more nutritionally complete than most of the stuff people are eating these days. But as much as I love the convenience of a pale, bland shake, I also love a good sandwich, so I set out to make one that rivaled it in...
Foto: Jon Chonko

What if you never had to worry about eating food again? That's the promise of Soylent, the menacingly named product that claims to be cheaper, easier to make, and more nutritionally complete than most of the stuff people are eating these days.

Soylent's been getting a steady stream of press since it launched last year. Motherboard even subjected one of their editors to a 30-day diet of the stuff.

US orders began shipping earlier this summer, and the demand has been high. Soylent recently announced that it's already delivered 100,000 packets of the powder, or in its words: "enough Soylent to feed a 150-pound male for over 250 years."


It just so happens that I'm a 150-pound male who loves food but doesn't always have time to enjoy it. Sometimes I work late, skip lunch, and don't eat as well as I could. I'm the perfect candidate for Soylent. But is a tasteless, off-white goop the answer to my problems? Does the speed, cost, and nutritional benefit of Soylent really trump food?

The idea that I needed a powdered food replacement didn't sit right. I decided to challenge Soylent and myself. I dug deep into my best sandwich recipes to see if could make something to match Soylent punch-for-punch and nutrient-for-nutrient. If the sandwich won, I would write Soylent off. If it lost, I might have to convert.


Making the Soylent Legit Soylent(™) is hard to get for this fight. First, there's the hierarchy to the company's shipping schedule with a much longer wait on new orders. Then there was the shipping hold because some customers have been complaining of headache and flatulence problems.

Thankfully, there's a thriving online, DIY Soylent community that's fully endorsed and supported by the company. Since my own case of flatulence-inducing white powder couldn't wait, I decided to venture over to to look through the thousands of recipes that DIY Soylent fanatics have compiled. There's a lot. I selected the most popular recipe that offered the simplest ingredient list, which promised that it was "tasty."


During my research, I discovered that DIY Soylent is fundamentally comprised of three things: a carb/calorie base, protein powder, and multivitamins. Here's what I used:

—Masa harina: The bulk of the drink and source of most of the caloric content.

—Whey protein isolate: A dairy-derived powder that's a byproduct of the cheese industry and the primary source of protein in the drink.

—Multivitamin/protein powder: This handles the lion's share of the vitamin and nutrient requirements.

—Calcium/magnesium, potassium citrate, iodized salt, choline bitartrate: These pills fill out the rest of the vitamin and mineral needs.

—Soybean oil: I found it a little weird you add oil to the mixture. Ii made it feel even less food-like that the powders alone. It also adds some extra calories, fat, vitamins, and omegas.


Designing the Sandwich I needed to design a sandwich that would be as nutritionally complete as Soylent. Assuming that I would be eating three a day, each sandwich would need to provide a solid third of the daily recommended amount of calories, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It also couldn't exceed the safe amounts of sodium or cholesterol, or be so calorie-rich that I'd get fat.

My first instinct was to go with the classics. I sketched out variations on a turkey club, a BLT, and ham and cheese.

Things started well but as I audited each ingredient's nutritional value, I soon found that a sandwich's natural strengths (bread and meat) while rich in protein and calories, fail miserably in the vitamin and mineral department. Crafting a nutritionally complete sandwich was harder than I expected. The classic recipes weren't cutting it. I needed to get creative.


After a long and intimate exploration of the USDA's food database, I went with a more nutrient-rich tuna sandwich as my base, filling the rest of it with the most nutrient-rich and sandwich-appropriate foods I could find. I dubbed it "The Tuna Complete":

—2 slices of sourdough bread: Whole-grain breads offered the best nutrient profiles. Sourdough was picked because it's slightly higher in a few key areas, like iron and protein. I also like the taste.

—1 can's worth of tuna salad with mayo, mustard, capers, onions, and lemon juice: Vitamin D was really hard to find in sandwich-appropriate foods. Tuna was the best candidate. The lemon adds some extra vitamin C and flavor.

—1 medium boiled egg, sliced: More vitamin D, protein, and lots of omegas.

—1 handful of spinach: Dark greens like kale are great sources of vitamin A. I don't want to eat a kale sandwich. Thankfully, spinach is also rich in vitamin A.

—2 big tomato slices: I added tomatoes for color, flavor, vitamin C, and bunch of other nutrients.

—2 slices of Swiss cheese: Calcium—gotta have it. I chose Swiss to go with the sour/salty flavor of the sandwich.


I had a sandwich, I had some Soylent, and I had an open Sunday afternoon with no other obligations. It was time for a fight.

Round 1: Time/Effort

The Soylent The Soylent ingredients were hard to find. Nutrition and supplement stores carry most of them but not things like masa, so I ended up making multiple trips around town. Tracking down and buying ingredients on foot took time. The ingredients could be ordered to save this hassle, but there's still a waiting period. Spur of the moment Soylent isn't really possible. That said, once the ingredients were acquired, assembly was fast. Measuring and mixing the powders took about five minutes. Mixing the drink with water took 30 seconds. Once Soylent is mixed with water, it needs to be refrigerated, but the powder can stay at room temperature for up to a year.


The Sandwich Getting the sandwich ingredients was fast. I was able to buy everything at one grocery store and still use the express lane. I imagine that no matter what town I was in, I'd be able to find the ingredient easily enough. The prep was a lot more complicated. Cooking, mixing, and cutting the ingredients took about 30 minutes. All of it could be done ahead of time to support a week of prep-free sandwich assembly, but it's still not as quick as Soylent. Both the prepped at mixed ingredients need to be refrigerated.


Winner: Soylent

Round 2: Money

The Soylent I walked out of GNC with, what for me, will be a lifetime supply of whey and multivitamin powder and a receipt of over $100. That's a big up-front investment to make into the Soylent lifestyle. That Soylent, though, will last a long time. I have about half a month's worth of "food," bringing my daily cost to less than $10 a day. Soylent claims their official mixture will keep you alive on $10 a day, or $4 a meal.

The Sandwich My sandwich didn't cost a lot to start. I walked out of the grocery store with a $40 receipt. I have enough stuff for about two days's worth of sandwiches if I eat three a day. That's $20 a day. Pretty low, but not as cheap as Soylent.


Winner: Soylent

Round 3: Nutrition

The Soylent The Soylent recipe I used claims 100 percent (or more) of every required nutrient and just enough calories for me to maintain my weight with a moderate level of exercise. I believe it.


The Sandwich The sandwich is not, sadly, 100 percent nutritionally complete. The sandwich is nutritionally complete in pretty much all categories except a few key vitamins. Try as I might, I couldn't bump the vitamin E past 30 percent of my daily recommended value, or get potassium and magnesium past 80 percent. In the very long-run, I might develop a bit of a deficiency.

There's another problem with eating the same sandwich every day. Natural foods like eggs, spinach, tomatoes, and tuna aren't consistent with their nutritional value. They fluctuate based on season, growing conditions, and a variety of other factors. I have no guarantee that my sandwich has the same nutritional value each time I make it. Soylent's powders are pretty much guaranteed to be consistently nutritious.


Winner: Soylent

Round 4: Taste

The Soylent I was looking forward to this part. I had read multiple reviews that condemned Soylent's flavor and texture. Brian Merchant at Motherboard described it diplomatically as "mildly unpleasant." Another writer compared its texture to semen. Everything I read was true. It tastes like uncooked dough and it's texture doesn't remind me of appetizing things. Soylent's founder Rob Rhinehart says taste isn't important. The more neutral the better. He wants Soylent to be something you never get sick of and can drink for long periods of time. I had a hard time swallowing just one cup, but when I finished the glass, I wasn't hungry anymore.


The Sandwich I'm not usually a fan of tuna and eggs on the same sandwich but this worked well enough. It was fresh, salty and bright. It wouldn't be my first choice of sandwich to make, but I enjoyed every bite and had enough leftovers that I made the same sandwich later that night for dinner. I could easily get sick of it, though. I might have to experiment with bread and tuna seasoning to keep it fresh, but at least I have that option. Soylent is the same stuff every day.


Winner: Sandwich

Bonus Round: The Scan I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:


The Soylent


The Sandwich


Winner: Sandwich

Conclusion: Soylent 3, Sandwich 2 The sandwich lover in me was eager to ridicule Soylent. I now have a begrudging respect for what the company is trying to achieve. I underestimated the difficulty of crafting cheap nutritionally rich meals and was naive to think that something like a sandwich was already doing what Soylent claims is their innovation.

Soylent clearly wins on paper in the places that matter to its founder, the people that pre-ordered it, and the DIY community that makes their own.

But it loses in the one place that's most important to me: The taste.

Ultimately, Soylent's philosophy is cold and impersonal, ruled by number and requirements. Soylent starts with the assumption that food is a burden, both to individuals and to the world as a whole. A long-term goal of Soylent is to help end world hunger by providing people with cheap, easy-to-make sustenance. In many ways that's a noble goal, but also paints a picture of world where to stay alive, everyone must eat the same thing, a food mono-culture for species survival—a theme often present in dystopian futures, and a theme that Soylent knowingly welcomed when the company chose its name. It's a future I'm not so eager to embrace.

Soylent wasn't bad, but if I had the choice of a perfect health and a cup of Soylent, or a vitamin D deficiency and a good club sandwich, I'd chose the sandwich every time.