Drink Coke and Down with Big Brother – Huel

Once, it came up in conversation that I write about food. The other person in this exchange asked ‘So, you can cook?

‘Well I’m competent, I guess?’

‘Oh, I can’t cook, me. I live off Huel.’

‘Huel? What’s that?’

And a quick google later, my tiny mind was blown.

It turns out that Huel are a company that sell a soluble powder that covers your entire body’s nutritional needs. Like some high class multi vit. You buy bulk packets of powder and mix it with water and you’re good to go. It’s aimed at the sort of people who are busy, on the move and don’t have time:

‘In an ideal world, we’d all have time to select, buy, prep and cook a meal made with whole foods, and have the knowledge to ensure we’re getting the complete nutrition we need. But this is unfortunately not always possible, especially when we’re on the go or in a rush. So most people often resort to “junk food” that is quick, but very unhealthy – think snacking on a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar or grabbing a sandwich or a cheeseburger for lunch. Sadly all this food is optimised for taste over nutrition, which is the essential value of food. As a population we have made food so delicious that we crave it, get addicted to it, and over consume it. The result is that over 64% of adults are overweight or obese, and obesity-related conditions are on the increase.’

It’s nice to know they have a conscience and good intentions. There’s also quotes and pledges to being environmentally responsible as a company and using vegan ingredients. It’s curious how they discovered this hole in the market because I quite literally cannot comprehend how anyone could be “too busy” to get a good meal down them on the reg. You are not too busy to eat. You just aren’t. Surgeons up to their arms in guts eat. Armed forces in battle zones find the time to eat. How eager are you to commit fully to one company’s mission? How keen are you to centralise your every nutritional need into one corporate deity? Isn’t this how Stalin started? The anxieties of collectivisation were realised the more it was investigated. Huel are a little sinister. . .

“. . . it smells weirdly like playdough. But the culinary edition. . . “

You order it off their site in packets. There’s only two main products to choose from. [ed note: since writing this post they’ve expanded their brands] There’s also snack bars and £3 flavour boosters multipacks, which I threw one in with my order. The main basic ingredients are peas, flaxseed, rice, sunflower, coconut and oats. You can pick different flavourings at the checkout: On the more luxurious side of things we have mint chocolate, or coffee flavours. I ordered a banana, and berry bags, with a vanilla Black edition. More or less because I wanted to test the product without different tastes or flavourings masking it. So that’s three bags and a 12 pack of flavours. It cost £73. Huel throw in a free mixing flask and two scoops too. What I’m very interested in is how long the bags will last on the recommended daily dose.

What I will say for them is their design and website presentation is fantastic. Minimal, which gives it a certain purity about it. The font and colour stands out, impressively so. You could spot this logo from a distance away. The problem is I can’t help but feel the tone is a little too cult-like for my tastes. Testaments, blog posts, articles are abundant on their site. There are quotes from registered dietitians” – what other kinds are there, exactly? – and ironically deadpan describing their staff as as ‘bloody lovely people’ and their subscribers as – ‘hueligans‘-, which comes across like an overly enthusiastic boss trying to fit in with the interns by talking about how Lil Tracy‘s new mixtape was W.H.A.C.K. Every first order comes with an (optional) free t-shirt with the Huel logo printed on it. There’s also this article which sounds more than a little obsessive, and defensive. What is it about these hipster companies that are so collectivised? You’re a business, guys, not a lifestyle; not every product is for everyone. The zeal is overpowering and just makes me think of cheesy Corporate-ese things like this. I’m delighted to know there’s a London office. I’m going there to drink a full fat coke in front of the windows. Down with Big Brother.

Lamentably, reviewing this kind of thing isn’t new so nothing written here is particularly original. That linked article and the product’s packet suggest Huel tastes better mixed with a plant-based milk, but initially let’s try it with water. Going into this, not even sure how to review this, honestly. It’s not like this is food that is heavily entrenched in style or technique nor cultural resonance. It’s not like I can say “oh wow, this is a beautiful sous-vide” or “the glaze and reduction leave a nourishing, sweet finish on the meat“. So here goes nothing.

The Soffritti base really adds to the meal!

Is it a little coercive to have a minimum per order of your product? Just us?

In case you wondered, this blog only counts for about 25% of what I eat. In order to counter the sheer amount of calories consumed to review this stuff I intermittent fast. So Huel is actually a good thing for people like me. Someone who’s diet is so extreme they need to restrict themselves this much. And ultimately this is what sets off the red alert for me. It’s just so extreme to go this far.

Speaking of nutritionists, and I’m no expert myself, how can they claim Huel covers all of everyone’s body’s needs? Some people need more of one thing or less of another. Take gender for example. It’s recommended that women eat less calories than men do for one thing. A lack of certain vitamins in men can drastically lower their testosterone, whereas women don’t need to worry about that but should pay more attention to their iron count. So, this is at the most generalised or sadly, bunk. I highly doubt a male body builder needs the same nutritional amount than a women who has just given birth. Speaking of pregnancy, this is also something that is ever so slightly hinted at in one of their FAQ’s: On the question of whether it’s okay to consume Huel when pregnant:

‘Mothers are told not to have too much vitamin A, nor to use vitamin A supplements during pregnancy. The amount of vitamin A in Huel meets the EU recommended intake and is lower than typical intakes of people who consume a varied diet, and far lower than levels that have been shown to be safe during pregnancy.’

There’s also some shiftiness about if you’re okay to consume this if you’re diabetic or have other conditions. Make of that what you will, folks. Funnily enough, despite their website bragging they’ve sold enough to feed London and Paris combined, there’s no evidence to prove that Huel could completely feed an entire population, whereas every single country in the world has its own culinary culture that has kept their citizens ticking throughout history. The Spartans didn’t consume Huel, did they? Pasta seems to have gotten the Italians quite far too. The British empire lived off indigenous pie and mash and looted recipes from around the world. Oddly enough, they were busy people who didn’t need Huel who claim are for everyone. Make of that what you want too, folks. And just to draw your attention to another point, their contention that nutrition is the essential value of food. Well, it hasn’t been, to be honest. Not saying they’re factually incorrect but historically it’s always been for the common person more about what they can make on the cheap and sustain regularly. There’s a reason why immigration took off in Ireland after the potato famine. Because it’s the only thing they had at their disposal. And remember it is a company selling you a product telling you that judgement. Food isn’t rational, and it’s also far too important to let it be decided for you. I could go on but I think I’ll refer you to this fantastic speech for further inquiry.

Cracking open the banana flavoured packet, it smells weirdly like playdough. But the culinary edition. It’s musky. I had to shake it quite a bit. It’s a fine, thick powder, like a flour. I hate to moan about it, but the powder is dry as hell and when you pour in the fluid clumps of it stay at the bottom of the bottle. For my first Huel, it’s banana flavour mixed with water. A good shake before. I have to admit, it is a bit weird to “eat” without texture, context or technique. Where’s the mallard reaction? The crisp-crunch of fried chicken? Where’s the roaring aroma of triple fried fries? It’s strangely buttery in the mouth. Although you can tell the water thins it out. I don’t hate the flavouring, it’s the only thing keeping me from a whole lot of liquid-porridge texture. That’s kinda the only thing I can describe the texture as, like a very liquidly porridge, or like a very thick milkshake. Flavour wise, it simply tastes like a basic milkshake. Or a more savoury smoothie. Which to be fair, they’re trying to be. The taste stays at the back of the throat for a while, but if you choose to drink this in one big go, like attempting to substitute a meal, it is sort of filling. Mixed with hazelnut milk, it was an interesting milkshake/smoothie like concoction. A lot sweeter but the powder dries it out and you’re left with a shittily-grittily mix. And within minutes that mixture is everywhere. Because you have to shake it harder than a 14 year old boy could ever manage.

With hazelnut milk, as tastes go, it comes across like a nice milkshake. Thick and creamy and with an added bit of sweetness. Trying it again with one scoop of powder and soya solves the issue though. With vanilla oat milk it was delicious, and was thin and smooth enough to not become gloopy or gritty again. Just for a treat, I – ahem – infused two scoops of banana powder overnight in the fridge with Alpro soya chocolate milk, attempting to emulate a sweet, melted dessert sundae type of drink. Even with milk, the powder thickens up into this grit. It coats your teeth and softens them up with this weird, dry, straw like taste. Yum. So the taste is purely powdery, no salt or seasoning nor pepper nor acidic nor fuck all. It’s basically powder. Slightly medicinal, dry and thick. Apart from that, I can’t really tell. It would be extremely beneficial to carry the Huel container around with you in order to shake the powder up as you go through your day.

Also it needs saying, the powder just about gets everywhere. It’s incredibly annoying to be honest. If one of the selling points of Huel is the cost effectiveness it would help if some of it landed in the container. Surely another opportunity to sell a Huel logo branded funnel? The grit, the chunks of dried up powder in the fluid ruin it. I even ended up putting the container in a pillowcase and windmilling it around like Pete Townsend. No dice. There’s always a little bit of dried sweetness that clings onto the gums and teeth. The container comes with a little sieve device like the one for putting flour into a dish, which I must stress you need to use, even if it means you end up cutting lines of Huel powder and panning it into the container. Eventually I gave up and got a blender specifically for Huel. The quality of the product immediately went up once I did that.

What I will say is the flavour sachet packets you can buy do shake things up a bit and add a little variety. Apple cinnamon with banana flavours is dam delicious. Chocolate oat milk with banana Huel and salted caramel powder was probably the best banana one I had. Just to shake it up a bit, I started experimenting with the powder by adding different stuff to it. Coconut milk with banana with some cinnamon gave the flavour some character. Ginger and nutmeg powder works as well with vanilla. Especially when I used a blender and made it a ‘lil frothy. It was basically a hip little smoothie. In terms of cooking potential I’d be interested in exploring further. The thought does occur to me, could you use this powder for a roux? As in, you could use a particular flavoured Huel for a particular dish, for a particular undercurrent of flavour? Plus the nutritional benefits would be interesting.

The question is, can this fill you up? In my experience, it can. Definitely if you chug it. Maybe that’s the benefit of the powder, that it can fill a gut. But I was interested to see if I could finish a flask in one single setting and the truth is; I struggle through it. It does fill you up though, but the human stomach isn’t really designed to take one meal’s worth like a shot. It felt like chugging fluid-y porridge. Irrefutably, after half an hour, after it settled, it did feel like I’d eaten a big meal. Living entirely off Huel for a fortnight irrefutably shifted some weight. And with no side effects other than perhaps my tolerance for sugar has gone down. For those of you wanting to diet and fast, or really dramatically change your body shape Huel could be your ticket. For those of you that fancy Huel simply for it’s nutritious qualities, it is suggested that you can have it with milk. This also helps with maintaining calories. So you might be tempted to concede defeat that Huel are effective in that regard. But as a point of comparison; Huel have 28 different vitamins and minerals in each individual bag and retails for £50 for two bags. Slim Fast, by comparison, have 23 vitamins and minerals and retails at Boots for £10.99. Your choice.

While I appreciate this is beyond the control of the company, what is concerning to me is the lack of moderation on behalf of some consumers. Given the opening conversation to this post, presumably there are people out there living on this stuff. Weirdly enough there’s a semi-busy Huel subreddit which does have commenters declaring or at least implying Huel as their only food intake. These people are dispensing with cooking and food in its entirety. It would be remiss to tell people to live the diet of a food blogger but readers, please, everything in moderation. Are there really people out there denying themselves the pleasure of the smell of a roasting chicken? Or the satisfaction of browning onions? And who can forget butter? Do not entirely skip dinner for a utility. Do not denigrate food down to something that needs to be done. Dinner is a pleasure and a privilege, and restaurants specialise in giving that intimate space. Learn to love yourself and buy yourself a curry or pizza every once in a while!

Oh, and by the way, the amount of time you’ll spend shaking this you could have easily made a sandwich. Or thrown some mixed veg and a sauce into a wok pan. So I must insist on asking the question; who are these people who can’t eat a salad a day? Putting cereal in a bowl with milk takes two minutes. A store-bought pizza takes 12 – 14 minutes to cook. I know life is short but how much life are you really living if you cut out a nice, big fat burger? Or lasagne? Or fruit salad? It’s almost like Huel is for people who are anti-food. A utility to be accessed at one’s discretion, rather than one’s own pleasure. I honestly can’t help but see it as perversion, food numerated into pure fact. It goes against so much of what I view as human. What of the smell of cooking chicken? What about chippy’s? And won’t someone think of the greasy spoons? Then again, as a food blogger, obviously we’re going to wax lyrical about all things epicurean. It would be easy to agree to disagree but the website cults creeps me out so much. You could write a Black Mirror episode based on this kind of corporate fanaticism.

During research we stumbled upon this video, which sums up a lot of feelings. So yeah, I’m with Gorman on this one.

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. . . back to the homepage.

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