The future is here and it tastes like vanilla flavoured oatmeal.
Our Jack puts Huel, the self proclaimed ‘future of food’ to the test. It claims to be a ‘nutritionally complete’ meal alternative that can replace ALL of your meals for under £6.50 a day. Depending on what kind of person you are, this probably sounds like…
1. a ‘post food’ dystopian nightmare,
2. too good to be true
But, what does Tasting Britain think? We think it’s fantastic – with a few caveats…
Some things/biases I would like you, dear reader, to be aware of…
1. ’Processed food’ does not equate to ‘junk food’: Supplementary protein powder is highly processed and most of us agree that it can be a very beneficial part of a balanced diet. How do you even define ‘processed food’ anyway? Where do you draw the line between pulling something out of the ground and the process of hydrolyzing casein?
2. ‘Natural’ does not always equate to ‘healthy’: Arsenic occurs in nature. Horse turds are natural. It is not good to consume them.
3. The guys at Huel do not advocate this as a replacement to all your meals: Unless that’s what you really want to do. As far as we know, most people use Huel to replace some, not all, of their meals.
With that out the way, on with the show…
What is it?
‘Human fUEL’ – Huel’s designers claim that it’s a “nutritionally complete powdered food that contains all the protein, carbs, fats, vitamins and minerals your body needs”. Just add water to the consistency you want to see, and then shake/blend.
It is made of 6 main ingredients: oats, flax seed, pea, rice, coconut, and sunflower.
If you replaced all your meals you’d consume about 488g a day of Huel to get reference of 2000 cal a day – which would be 100% of your caloric RDA, if you were an ‘average’ woman.
It contains a macronutrient ratio of 37:30:30:3 – 37% of the energy comes from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, 30% from protein and 3% from fibre.
How much does it cost?
This varies around how much you want to buy.
The cheapest option (per portion) involves the highest upfront cost – think of it as a volume discount.
£162 for 8 bags, which works out to be £1.45 a portion.
Where is it available?
‘Biohackers’, athletes, busy people, health conscious folks, lazy/smart people who don’t care too much about what their food tastes like, regular folks looking to replace a few meals, those on a diet short/long term, cyberpunks and futurists…
In a Word:
Forward-Thinking (ok, two words)
Economical: Under £6.50 a day for what they claim is a high protein, completely balanced diet.
Nutritious: Take a look at the nutritional profile on the back label. It reads like a multivitamin.
In terms of micronutrients, they haven’t missed anything that the official dietary guidelines recommend (with the very strong caveat being that there could be some things you can only get from whole foods and vegetables that are not included in the RDA or we don’t know about yet…)
Simple: Even if you, dear reader, can’t boil an egg, you can definitely put powder into a protein shaker, seal the lid, and shake it for 45 seconds. Bonus: no plates and cooking prep means no extra time spent cleaning beyond that. No shopping either – buy online, receive in the post…
Environmentally friendly: Say what you will about meat, but there’s no argument against how environmentally inefficient it is for meeting our caloric and nutritional needs. Huel contains no animal products. That said, the ingredients are sourced globally before being blended in Devon – so I’m not sure about the food mile karma here.
Free from and vegan friendly: It’s vegan and they also have a gluten free formulation – though it costs a little more.
Lack of variety: What is probably the most obvious thing. Yes, there are various ‘flavouring systems’ you can use to change the base flavour of Huel (which is not disagreeable at all) but when you compare Huel to ‘all food that is not Huel’, there’s not much variety in taste and consistency.
Lack of ‘non RDA’ micronutrients, phytonutrients etc.: One of the reasons we eat our vegetables is for all of the good stuff in there that we are still learning about. Are we sure that Huel can replace this?
Unproven, longterm: We need longterm studies to see if this stuff really does what it says it will. The human body is, as you know, a complex thing… As far as I know they actually tried to pay a guy to eat nothing but Huel for a year but the results aren’t back yet.
(See also): Per 2000cals, Huel has 106% of your RDA for iron. If you are a man consuming over quantities over 2000cals over a prolonged periods of time this could theoretically be a problem (see: iron accumulation in blood). I’m not personally too worried about it.
Contains artificial sweetener: Which doesn’t bother me but may bother some people.
Macro ratio might not work for you: Those of our readers who are forfeiting carbs, for example, or eating a very low carb diet may have problems integrating this into their plan. Or it may be complicated.
My initial impressions are that it’s not a thin homogenous powder – like some protein formulations. It’s more granular, with different sized bits… a little like sand on a beach. Take a look…
Tastes like vanilla porridge/oatmeal, as you might expect – my tasting notes read as ‘cold, thin uber-porridge’. If we were expecting bland tasteless paste, this is not it. I like it. There is a marked oat-like aftertaste. It appears to be no more or less satiating than normal.
If you find it too sweet you can add more water to it to make it less sweet (and less thick). If it’s not sweet enough you can add more Huel – but this will also ramp up the caloric content – which might defeat the point.
You’re meant to add 5 parts water to one part powder. I have mixed it pretty thick because that’s how I like shakes. If you like porridge, you’ll probably like it prepared this way.
They recommend blending it for proper consistency – but my ancient blender is a nightmare to clean so I skip that and just use the shaker.
My first taste is three scoops – about 114g apparently. After I finish it, it tends to get a little lumpy, rolled oat sediment at the bottom – kinda like cold porridge. Delicious though. I add water a few times to get rid of all the sediment and ensure none goes to waste.
Other stuff you can do with Huel
Some creative folks bake with it. I’d imagine the results are pretty tasty, and that these are not the kind of people to add sugar to everything, but I do wonder how the heat of an oven or microwave would affect the nutrient and caloric content.
Having tried it for the course of a month, I’m sold.
Yes, I run a food and drink website and could make a credible claim to being ‘dyed in the wool’ when it comes to ‘regular food’. And obviously I have no plans to replace all of my home meals with Huel, or to stop visiting restaurants/friends that serve this ‘regular food’.
BUT Huel gets daily use when I am at home, and is invaluable for travel and those days when you are particularly strapped for time. I like the taste, the convenience and the fact that I know exactly how many calories and macronutrients I am getting without having to faff with the weighing and measuring of food.
A highly hypothetical scenario, but what would happen if everybody were to replace some of their standard (probably not so healthy) convenience foods with Huel? I leave that to your imagination. But people like choice, and I doubt that will happen because many people will probably run a mile from the idea.
Pessimism aside, I wholeheartedly recommend Huel. The future of food? I wouldn’t go that far. Economical and nutritious human fuel? Absolutely.