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Is Huel the future of fast food?

No-one’s got time to eat real food anymore, so chug this meal-replacement shake instead

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We’ve all been in this situation: you get home from a hard day of work, the last thing you want to do is cook, so you slap a ready meal in the microwave or order the usual from your nearest takeaway. You guzzle down it sat in front of the TV, feeling greasy and bloated, wondering why you bothered. But wait! The memory in your mind’s eye freezes with the sound of a record scratch. What if we told you, in our most peppy advert narrator voice, that you could prepare a healthy meal that will leave you feeling full in under two minutes?

This is the sales pitch for Huel, short for ‘human fuel’, a bioengineered powder containing all your essential nutrients that you can mix with water to drink as a shake. We’ve been drinking it for three weeks to put all of Huel’s claims to the test – including completely substituting it for all our meals. But did we drink the powdered Kool Aid and buy into dream of a foodless future?

Snack to the future

As Paleofuture once explored, The idea of replacing meals with an all-in-one solution has been a staple of sci-fi stories for decades. Take the 1930 sci-fi musical Just Imagine, which tells the story of a man who is woken up from a 50-year coma in Eighties New York. The denizens of this future swallow little pills instead of meals. The protagonist tries one that is supposed to taste of clam chowder, roast beef and pie. His only complaint was that “the beef was a little bit tough”.

While the meal-in-a-pill of Just Imagine was in part prompted by Depression-era fears over population growth and food scarcity, it was given a tech-utopian rebranding in the Space- Age Sixties. Astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong were sucking rehydrated food out of pouches while floating in orbit and the folks back on Earth wanted to be part of the action. Powered foods and drinks like Tang enjoyed a surge in popularity.

The current trend for meal replacements started in the US with a product called Soylent – that’s right, like the movie. Instead of people, it’s mostly made from algae. In 2013, 6,144 crowdfund backers said they would rather drink Soylent than eat food, giving them $754,498 to make it happen. Seeing its potential, investors Andreessen Horowitz, famous for financing Twitter, Airbnb and Oculus, also got behind Soylent. The drink has been the go-to for Silicon Valley movers and shakers ever since.

Huel co-founder Julian Hearn prepares a meal
Huel co-founder Julian Hearn prepares a meal

While Soylent is only available in the US, Britain’s own tech scene has come up with a transatlantic alternative. While trying to build a fitness website, Huel co-founder Julian Hearn had to keep to a strict diet to make sure he was getting all the nutrients his body needed, but found that making sure you got them all, and having all the time to prepare them, was a ‘nightmare’. That’s why he created Huel. It only takes minutes to prepare, and has all the vitamins and minerals your body needs.

Unlike Soylent’s algae concoction, Huel is made from things that wouldn’t look out of place in many pantries: oats that contain fibre, providing a slow release of energy to keep us going between meals; flaxseed, sunflower seeds and coconut to provide essential fatty acids, such as omega-3; brown rice and peas for added protein. All these natural ingredients also contain other nutrients, which along with a blend of vitamins, mean Huel meets all UK and EU healthy-eating guidelines. In fact, it’s so healthy, some of the products users have committed to going ‘100 per cent Huel’ and eat nothing else. We decided to join them.

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Huel’s ingredients are all natural and 100 per cent vegan

Living on Huel

First impressions: the future doesn’t taste great. Our first Huel was a lot like porridge, which was fine as we were having it for breakfast. But it was made with cold water and the consistency was so fine it suggested the oats had been blitzed in a blender until they were fully liquidised. This may have been because we’d got the powder-to-water ratio wrong, but weeks later, having got our Huel prep down to a fine art, the taste still hadn’t improved.

In fairness, we did opt for the unflavoured Huel pack rather than vanilla version. It came in an intentionally minimalist bag that contained 1.7 kilograms of Huel powder, enough to last 14 days. Other flavours include banana, strawberry, toffee, mocha, rhubarb and custard, and pineapple and coconut.

As advised by Huel, we started off slow, tapering off normal food by replacing one meal every day with Huel, so by the third day all three of our meals were shakes. We were pleasantly surprised that we weren’t driven mad with hunger pains between meals, clearly the solution – high in protein and fibre for slower energy release – was doing its job. On our fifth day of 100 per cent Huel, we did find our tempers fraying more easily, though. We tried upping the number of scoops from three to four so that the drink looked more like cake batter and this seem to stave off the ‘hanger’.

However, after seven days we couldn’t hack it any longer. More than just missing flavours, we craved the sensation of chewing. That night we ordered the biggest plate of ribs we could find and we were elated by eating something solid.

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Huel can form part of a balanced diet

Time-saving solution

After our smoke house splurge, we switched back to drinking Huel once a day, twice if we knew we had a busy day ahead. In fact, there was one day that we overslept and having Huel for breakfast saved us from both being late for work and having to go hungry. We could have opted for eating a breakfast bar on the bus, but it wouldn’t have been as filling or as healthy. Huel is a ‘meal replacement’ rather than a ‘food replacement’, so mixing shakes with a more conventional diet is perfectly within ‘the rules’.

As well as saving time, Huel can save you money. A 28-meal supply works out at £1.60 per meal, but ordering a 56-meal supply works out at £1.50, and 112 days at just £1.45. Our experiment is over and there are still dregs left in our bag. No longer under editorial obligation, will we continue to drink it? Most likely, especially if we’re working late to file an all-important feature and our stomach starts to growl. But will we reorder a new batch when it runs out? Well, that remains to be seen.

For more information on Huel, visit huel.com.

Tech to Save Time Without Giving Up Food

Can’t stomach the idea of cutting out conventional food? Try these gadgets instead…

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Dyson 360 Eye

There’s no need to drag your Dyson around the house anymore, it can clean it on its own like Rosie The Robot from The Jetsons. The Dyson 360 Eye is similar to a Roomba, but with extra suction power to get even the smallest debris.

£800 | $1,000 | dyson.co.uk

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Tefal 8-In-1 Multi Cooker

Saving time, doesn’t always mean speeding up. A slow cooker like the Tefal 8-In-1 Multi Cooker can steam vegetables, grains and desserts as well as cook porridge for breakfast ahead of time, ready for when you want it.

£60 | $80 | tefal.co.uk

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Apple Watch Series 2

As well as being able to view and respond to texts and phone calls with a flick of your wrist, instead of getting your phone out of your pocket, the new watchOS 3 has been streamlined so is much easier to use.

£370 | $370 | apple.com

 This article first appeared in Gadget issue 14. For the latest tech news and reviews, buy the latest issue of Gadget here or download the digital edition.

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