A while ago I posted an article named It’s not people, but is it palatable? The article was about Soylent, the powder that you could mix with water and take instead of eating. I expressed interest, scepticism, and ultimately disappointment that I couldn’t try it myself. For a while I checked every so often to see if they had expanded operations to the UK, which they still haven’t.
A year and a half later, I’d forgotten about it, but then happened to come across something else: Huel. It’s a very similar concept (down to the minimalist website with an athletic-looking guy pouring beige liquid into a glass), and it was not just available, but originated in the UK. In fact, the two main players as far as I can see are currently Huel and Joylent, the latter of which not only comes from the Netherlands, but rather daringly posts their last three reviews on the front page of their website, which at the time of writing are not all positive.
I looked up Huel and some reviews, and to be honest they weren’t particularly positive (Guardian, Telegraph, both in spring 2016). I was wary of spending money on something which would be thrown out, but then I saw that their website had a sample size (100g, a 400 calorie serving which could serve as lunch). The clincher was when a colleague of my brother gave the vanilla flavour the thumbs up. I ordered the sample for £4.
The package was predictably plain, coming in a resealable pouch with a lot of ingredients and nutritional information on it. Normally I baulk at large ingredient lists but of course if you’re trying to cover all the nutritional bases then there are going to be a lot of ingredients.
I actually agonised a bit which meal I would use it for – in short the reason for this was that I wanted to make the situation as realistic as possible – I wanted to see what would happen if I actually replaced a meal with it. 400 calories is a bit small for any meal, but I settled for lunch. 400 calories is similar to some sandwiches, and on occasion when trying to be good about what I eat I have had 400 calorie microwave lunches which have kept me pretty full.
Opening up the pouch, the contents were as predicted, a beige powder (I will talk about the actual ingredients in another post but they are mostly things like oat, barley and pea flour). It smelled vaguely of vanilla, which was promising.
I then measured out the powder into a shaker and added water. Here’s one of the frustrations: they suggest 550ml water to 100g powder. Most shakers are 700ml, so there’s very little room to shake it. So I split the powder into two batches of 50g and 225ml water. I used scales, of course.
Having shaken the powder and water, I might have been able to fit it in one lot. Oh well. I also discovered that my shaker leaks a bit, which I don’t normally notice because I am in the gym.
As you can see, you get quite a smooth looking liquid from the 20 seconds of mandated shaking (it’s longer than you think). You can also probably see bits of oat and things on the side of the shaker though.
Drinking the shake, I was suddenly reminded that this isn’t the first time I have substituted shakes for a meal. In fact, in a review I never wrote, I had a Weetabix breakfast shake which felt, in consistency, very similar. It was milky with a little tiny bit of granularity to it, and the taste was not at all bad. It wasn’t as thick as I thought it would be, and the first shaker went down very quickly. At this point I was not convinced that it would fill me up – the first 200 calories went down in three sips.
However, in the minute or so it took me to make the second batch and then move to my desk, suddenly I felt a bit more full, and maybe I wouldn’t even need the second lot. I did, of course, and I tried to sip it as I worked, to see what it was like. No problem at all to just kind of sip on, which was kind of the idea.
I finished the ‘meal’ at 15.30, which was a bit late for a lunch for me but I’d been to the gym. By 6pm I wasn’t ravenous, but I was feeling a normal amount of hunger that I would at that time if I’d eaten 400 calories (given that my lunches are usually 600 or more). So it just about worked, and I didn’t feel terrible, which was a good thing. We’ll have to see with a longer term trial
Having had my trial I was convinced enough to order a starter pack of 28 meals in two bags. Their website (and email correspondence) suggests not to go all in, so I think I’ll just ease in with a meal a day during the week for now. In the end one of the real values will be when I’m busy and would otherwise get something unhealthy – hopefully I’ll reach for the Huel and get a balanced diet. In the medium term a meal plan with Huel replacing one or two meals a day will hopefully help me to hit some weight goals too. I have received my box of meals today, so a review will follow once I’ve got a few under my belt!