Bitcoin and Soylent meal replacement: new currency meets new nutrition

Bitcoiners can now use their digital currency to buy the food substitute Soylent.

AccessTimeIconAug 8, 2013 at 4:59 p.m. UTC
Updated Apr 10, 2024 at 3:15 a.m. UTC
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A new product has come to the bitcoin table offering dieters and those strapped for time and cash the chance to exchange digital currency for a food substitute.

Soylent, which was created by entrepreneur Rob Rhinehart from Atlanta, Georgia, is a mixture of powdered starch, grape seed oil, compounds such as ferrous gluconate (iron) and vitamins, including vitamin C and vitamin D. It comes in a powder form, which is mixed with water to create a meal in a glass.

Soylent was dreamt up during the summer 2012 programme run by seed accelerator firm Y Combinator (YC). Rhinehart was initially creating affordable wireless networks for developing countries when he did what YC's co-founder Paul Graham described as "the biggest pivot in YC history".

The then-24-year-old came up with the idea for Soylent after hypothesising that the human body doesn't need food, just the chemicals and elements it is made of. He bought numerous tubs of various vitamins and supplements, created a mixture and, one morning, put his theory to the test.

"It was delicious! I felt like I'd just had the best breakfast of my life. It tasted like a sweet, succulent, hearty meal in a glass, which is what it is, I suppose. I immediately felt full, yet energized, and started my day," he said in a post on his blog.

Rhinehart stuck to drinking Soylent for a month and, within that time, noticed a number of positive changes, from an increase in energy and improved concentration to whiter teeth and a greater appreciation of music.

He also enjoyed the fact he was saving money and time by not having to go grocery shopping, cook or wash dishes. Add to this the fact he lost 16lbs over the course of three weeks and you can see why Soylent might be appealing to a lot of people.

The sceptics

There are, understandably, plenty of sceptics who worry that Soylent isn't actually very healthy and could, in the long-term, do greater harm than good. This probably isn't helped by the origins of the name Soylent. Rhinehart said the name comes from the book Make Room! Make Room!, which features a foodstuff called soylent steaks, which are not made of meat, but soya and lentils. However, in the film Soylent Green, which is based on the book, the food substitute Soylent Green turns out to be made of human remains.

Regardless of this rather macabre association, Rhinehart told CoinDesk a lot of people still seem to be interested in the product, which is evident in that his crowdfunding campaign gained more than 10,000 backers.

Those reluctant to take advice on nutrition from an electrical engineering and computer science graduate may be interested in what a dietary specialist has to say.

Cara Sloss, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, told CoinDesk: "Meal substitutes should be used with caution. Many new products have limited research available for potential users to study and there is often little knowledge about the effects of long-term use.

"In our hectic day-to-day lives some people may find it easier to grab a replacement meal on the run when there’s no time to stop for food. This is perfectly acceptable, providing you check the label of the product you’re buying."

She said the notion that the human body needs to consume solids isn't true and gave the example that liquid diets are regularly used in hospitals when patients are unable to consume solid food. "However, this is not recommended for everyone and anyone thinking about embarking on a liquid-only diet should consult their doctor for advice."

Sloss also had a word of warning for weight watchers thinking of embarking on the Soylent diet: "When using liquid meals as an aid for weight loss, be aware that we can often end up drinking more than we think! There have been studies showing that we are less likely to register the calories in liquid form and can end up actually consuming more than eating a solid meal."

The believers

Soylent bottles
Soylent bottles

Regardless of some people's hesitations, Soylent is already proving highly popular, having received over $1 million worth of pre-orders. Customers will have to wait a while for their powder to arrive, as deliveries are not set to be processed until September, for the US; December, for Canada, the UK and Mexico; and March 2014 for all other EU countries.

Rhinehart said he decided to allow customers to pay in bitcoin because he "loves" the idea of a decentralised currency. "It fits very closely with my philosophy. I would like to see the currency stabilise and use it at more places myself."

To pay for Soylent in bitcoin, users simply select the package they want, head to the checkout and select the 'Bitcoin' tab. After entering their name and email address, customers will see a QR code and the company's wallet address, which they can then use to transfer their bitcoins.

Alternatively, users can pay with their Coinbase account, by entering their email address and password.

Fred Ehrsam, co-founder of Coinbase found out about Soylent when it was in its early days. He approached one of the Soylent team and was given an early batch for the Coinbase team to test out.

"We tried it for a few consecutive days. It's awesome because it's very efficient to use - you don't have to take the time to eat, you can just gradually drink the nutrients you need without stopping what you're doing," he explained.

Ehrsam said Soylent is also very cheap when compared to the average amount he would normally spend on food, plus, it made him really appreciate food when he did have it. "In short, it separates eating out of necessity from eating out of pleasure."

He stopped drinking Soylent after a couple of days because, as his batch was an early version, the mixture of ingredients was a little "off".

"I'm sure it will be better tuned once it goes live to the public," Ehrsam added.

Below is Soylent's latest ingredients list posted on the company's blog. These are the main ingredients – Soylent contains some other vitamins and minerals that are not listed.

  • Maltodextrin (carbs)
  • Oat powder (carbs, fiber, protein, fat)
  • Rice protein
  • Medium chain triglycerides (fat)
  • Potassium gluconate
  • Salt (sodium)
  • Magnesium gluconate
  • Monosodium phosphate
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Methylsulfonylmethane (sulfur)
  • Creatine
  • Powdered soy lecithin
  • Choline bitartrate
  • Ferrous gluconate (iron)

What do you make of the idea? Would you be willing to give it a go?


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