Soylent recalls another product amid gastrointestinal mayhem

Originally published at:


Indigestion is other people, or something like that.


For anyone who’s curious, here are the ingredients of Soylent 1.6:

Soy Protein Isolate, Isomaltulose, Maltodextrin, Canola Oil, Isomaltooligosaccharide, High Oleic Algal Oil, Modified Food Starch, Whole Algal Flour, Soy Lecithin, Magnesium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Natural Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Mono & Diglycerides, Salt, Xanthan Gum, Dipotassium Phosphate, Choline Chloride, Mixed Tocopherols, dl-alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Sodium Ascorbate, Ferrous Gluconate, Zinc Sulfate, Sucralose, Calcium Pantothenate, Niacinamide, Copper Gluconate, Manganese Sulfate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Thiamin Hydrochloride, Chromium Chloride, Potassium Iodide, Biotin, Sodium Molybdate, Sodium Selenite, Phytonadione, Folic Acid, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12. (source)


Well to be fair they are smarter than 99.9% of everyone else by these measurements!

I did find it amusing they would take the returned products and eat them themselves to find out if they’d get sick too. (they didn’t)


I totally, totally agree that this is a thing. In fact a great deal of my professional work involves getting budding engineers to understand that they are not infallible or omniscient just because they can model a situation with an equation and then correctly solve the equation. (E.g., the obligatory relevant XKCD.)

But do we know that’s what’s going on here? Is there some particular evidence of hubris here? Just curious.


“thinking they’re smarter than everyone else, but aren’t”

Ooh. Saucy.

Ask yourself: is this problem rate lower or higher than the rate at which pharmaceuticals (from companies with deep pockets and large staffs) cause side effects?

Ask yourself: Am I comfortable having others hold myself to “perfect” as the only acceptable standard?

And ask yourself: am I comfortable with new products coming to market only when proven (somehow, magically, without human testing) to be 100% safe?

What you are seeing is not engineers “thinking they are smarter”(although they may well feel so!) - you see scientists (yes, scientists) experimenting and pushing the edges of the envelope. Trying something new inherently involves risk - nobody is holding a gun to your head forcing you to use soylent.

They are trying to make the world a little better - cut them some slack.


Oh come on, this is even more smug than the usual BB article. Way to demonize engineers and food experimentalists alike.


First ingredient:

Also, not sure how replacing food with a slurry of highly processed ingredients is going to improve the world.


Article I read surmised mold, as there have been many cases of mold in foods. So if you only have a little mold that isn’t enough to make you stop eating or notice, maybe.


Nah they ate the returned product and had no effects. It sounds to me like they are selecting some unusually rare ingredients in Soylent which are not tolerated well by a small percent of the population.


a handful of consumers (less than 0.1%)

So, assuming three meals of Soylent a day, that means on average you could expect a case of “nausea, vomiting, uncontrollable diarrhea, and dehydration” around once a year. If one finds that to be an acceptable risk to being a gastronaut pushing the envelope of experimental blah-de-blah, are these odds printed on the labels anywhere? Or was there a reasonable expectation of such injuries to health in all the experimental subjects? Did any of them sign release forms agreeing to be experimented on?


The 0.1 percent refers to people with sensitivity to some of the (apparently unusual) ingredients, not random chance of “getting a bad batch”.

Also I don’t think your stats calc is correct? 0.1 percent is one in a thousand, not one in a hundred.


As laid out in the EULA, Soylent consumers wishing a refund, or to file suit for medical expenses, must submit in person a written application for an appointment for arbitration at the Soylent Administrative Office Annex in Cumberland Square, Wyoming.

When an appointment for arbitration is approved, consumers must purchase an arbitration expenses voucher, payable in Bitcoin, from a kiosk in the customer service office in Soylent headquarters.

The arbitration venue is a floating seastead. For the convenience of plantiffs, the current location of the seasted will be provided at least three days before the date of arbitraton. Arrive fifteen minutes before your appointment for tissue typing and nurocompatibiity tests.


That sounds like the delightful crank and wheez libertarian nonsense. I’d prefer (and I believe the FDA would agree) they should do their ‘testing’ on people they pay for the pleasure of eating gruel and then diarhea-ing it out (sometimes uncontrollably).

Or perhaps Gruel 1.7 will come with a package of Anti-Uncontrollable-Diarhea Sauce 0.1?


So far as I’m aware there aren’t really scientists at Soylent, though who knows who they’ve hired recently. The founder is a software engineer, he did the vast bulk of the product development himself. Through trial and error. Work shopping it on his blog with assorted other techies. That’s not scientists “pushing the envelope”. That’s smug geeks opensourcing a recipe for Ensure.

Soylent has an established problem with mold. Whatever it is needs to be in common between the soylent bars and 1.6 powder but not (based on current info) the 2,0 liquid. The liquids got the mold problem. Gizmodo suggests it might be the increased presence of algae. Personally I’m willing to bet its fairly routine contamination. The original soylent factory apparently had a rat problem. And anything made from a bunch of weirdly sourced, highly processed powders handled in various ways dozens of times before packaging has huge opportunities for contamination.

The bigger problem would seem to me that they don’t actually know what is causing these symptoms. It could be something as simple as some rancid fat in the mix. Or it could be a potentially dangerous food born illness. It could be a result of regular mid to long term use of the base product. Soylent originally brushed the complaints off as just the result of people with allergies or food intolerance. Food allergies can kill you. Its serious shit. Not some weird edge case to brushed off.


That’s a valid question.

Soy Protein Isolate is just protein from soybeans, essentially the soy without the fats. Soybean protein is a “complete protein” since it provides all of the essential amino acids for human nutrition. By being derived from plant rather than animal matter, is is far more environmentally friendly than meat, and is in fact one of the least expensive forms of dietary protein. The FDA has made some fairly impressive claims in the past about the benefits of Soy Protein, which may be somewhat overstated, but the consensus is still that “Using these and other soy foods to replace foods high in animal protein that contain saturated fat and cholesterol may confer benefits to cardiovascular health.”

The other ingredients, for the most part, have similar benefits - the goal being to make a food that provides all of the health benefits but fewer of the drawbacks of “regular” food. You can say a lot of negative things about soylent (it is, at best, an acquired taste, and it certainly isn’t as enjoyable as traditional meals) - but pointing at the ingredients and saying “processed” isn’t terribly scary.

So - healthier food, better for the environment, and cheaper to produce. That’s how it can help improve the world.


Its pretty hard to dispute the idea that engineers dont know everything. As for experiments, they dont always turn out positive results.


For what it’s worth all of these ingredients can be commonly found on Earth and Uranus. Chow down Kids!.
Meh…diarrhea…who gives a shit?


What was the percentage of people who got diarrhea from Olestra chips?

Are these bars for people watching their weight? If so, this is a feature, not a bug.


I use “scientist” as “one who engages in science”.

“trial and error” is of course exactly what the essence of science is - hypothesize, experiment, refine, repeat. The guys who are making soylent are also the early adopters - they are refining their formula constantly.

The concept that there is some special club or stamp that makes someone a scientist is one of the problems with society today. Education is good, and terribly important, as are things like peer review, but good science is done daily by normal people, even software engineers.