tl;dr: Skip to the recipe
When you’re thirsty and you just want to not be thirsty anymore, there’s a default drink: water. It goes down easily, it’s ubiquitous, it doesn’t spoil, it’s cheap, there are unequivocally no health concerns. But what is the default food for hunger? There’s no broad consensus. People have been cooking forever, and yet no one has figured this out.
In America, breakfast is the most problematic meal. The common answers like cereal, muffins, doughnuts, pastries, etc are quick but the ratio of carbohydrates to other nutrients means they won’t keep you satisfied for long. Eggs are a good option, but they’re not very good unless you eat them while they’re fresh out of the pan.
What makes good food
Before we can decide if some alternative we come up with is better, we need to decide what factors are important. Balancing these factors, along with available materials, technology and creativity, should determine the outcome. For example, if you value health above all else, you might be willing to measure out 10 different individual vitamin and mineral supplements tailed to your diet. But if you valued quick preparation, you would restrict to as few ingredients as possible.
Here are the factors I care about most, ordered from most to least important:
- Tastes good — you won’t come back if you don’t like it
- Easy on the intestines— people trying Soylent often complain of gas and bloating; while it’s gotten better, it’s still not resolved
- Quick — if it takes too long, might as well make an omelet
- Keeps you satisfied — this comes from a high ratio of fat, protein, and fiber to carbohydrates
- Healthy by default — the morning typically is the most-rushed time; you shouldn’t have to think about whether you’re eating the right stuff
- Non-perishable — minimize trips to store, make as frequently or infrequently as you like, don’t worry about food poisoning
I’ll talk more about balancing these, as well as some that didn’t make the cut, in another post.
I needed some kind of testbed that I could use to try different ingredients. Something baked, like bread? A pudding? Just a paste? I eventually settled on blending, since it offered the best combination of ingredient flexibility — can I use something frozen like a banana if I’m mashing by hand?— and speed. At first, I thought milk would be a prerequisite in making it taste milkshake-y. Turns out: not necessary! If you have enough sources of fat and protein in the mix and they are capable of emulsifying, that makes it creamy.
What should we blend?
One of my heuristics was to choose ingredients that I’d be willing to eat on their own, or have a neutral flavor. This doesn’t always work. When I was 10 I tried putting chocolate syrup on my bologna sandwich. At least when we stick to consistently savory or consistently sweet, it’s harder to make that mistake. Since I love sweet things, I decided to start there. After many iterations, which I’ll discuss next time, I came up with the following combination:
Bananas. Source of fiber-mediated sugar, texture, and flavor. Sucrose levels rise 12x during ripening from almost nothing to 14g per 100g, so allows to-taste sugar level selection. Buy in bulk, wait till peak ripeness, peel, and freeze en masse. Frozen bananas will last for months, so I’ll give it a pass for the non-perishable constraint. Some grocery stores sell overripe bananas 5 lb/1$.
Soy protein. Purest reasonably smooth protein source. Beware additives! Can be hard to find a version without guar gum, carrageenan, etc, which gives me gas. Highly recommend Trader Joe’s or Now Foods. Whey gives me a little rash but if it works for you go for it.
Peanut butter. Fat, flavor, texture, sodium (which brings out other flavors), and if you choose, a little crunch depending on the quality of your blender.
Chia seeds. When chia seeds touch water, they secrete a polysaccharide gel, which gives the shake a texture I like. More importantly, they’re a fiber bomb. Smooth in, smooth out.
Having settled on a set of ingredients, I still had to determine the right amounts of each to use. To find out how much of each to use, I was shooting for 1/3 of 2000 calories. I wanted the minimum number of bananas to maintain sweetness and texture; the maximum amount of protein powder before the taste was too powdery; minimum chia to give the right amount of fiber; minimum cocoa to give it a chocolatey taste; and fill up the rest with peanut butter!
The recipe below comes out to about 650 calories and $1.10 per meal. If you’re interested in the nutrient profile, here’s the same recipe tripled on diy.soylent.com’s recipe editor/analyzer.
While searching for the right ingredient ratios, I learned that the recipe is very forgiving. You can change the quantities significantly without ruining the flavor/texture profile, though below is the best I found. I’ve also used room temperature unripe bananas; frozen grapes; frozen cranberries; in each case it was still good.
1 serving, 5 minutes
1–2 peeled, frozen, ripe bananas
1/4 cup soy protein isolate
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp cocoa powder (optional)
1 c water
Put all the ingredients except the water in a blender. Add the water, starting with less. Pulse, then blend on high until smooth. Add more water if necessary to reach desired consistency. Drink!
I’ve tested this with family and multiple friends and have made a few converts. It tastes like a milkshake. Try it and let me know what you think!
Next week, I’ll cover my design process, previous iterations, and directions for future research. Stay tuned!