Soylent Says Algal Flour Is Making Its Customers Sick

After issuing a recall on its meal replacement bars last month, Soylent, a "nutritious" food substitute company based in Los Angeles, thinks it has pinpointed the ingredient that has made a number of its customers "violently ill."

According to Bloomberg, the company believes an algae-based ingredient called algal flour is the culprit; the company plans to remove it from future products.

"We are releasing new formulations of our powder mix and meal replacement bars early next year," Rob Rhinehart, Soylent's co-founder and chief executive officer, told Bloomberg. "Our new formulations will no longer contain algal flour."

Customers complained of vomiting, "uncontrollable" diarrhea, and other symptoms after eating Soylent's Food Bars, Grub Street reported. A customer even claimed he went to the emergency room and was treated for nausea and severe dehydration after hours of stomach pain and vomiting after consuming the bars.

An executive of TerraVia, the biotech company that provided the ingredient, said the algal flour had been used in millions of products without complaints and claimed Soylent products contained "several known irritants" that could also be the root of customers' illnesses, Bloomberg reported.

Soylent's "carefully selected" ingredients include soy protein, isomaltulose, and other vitamins and minerals, according to the company website.

Update as of Nov. 18, 2016:

TerraVia has provided the following statements regarding the complaints:

  • Our algae food ingredients are proven in the marketplace. All of our commercial food ingredients have undergone years of regulatory and safety work and are classified as Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) in compliance with FDA regulations.
  • Our algal flour has been used in more than 20 million servings of products and has never been shown to be the cause of adverse reactions.
  • Soylent has reported that a small number of consumers have reacted negatively to the Soylent Bar and Soylent Powder 1.6 and has decided to remove algal flour from their formulations. Soylent has released no data that shows our algal flour is the cause of the adverse reactions.
  • According to food industry expert, George Burdock, Ph.D. "This conclusion is premature without additional investigation." "I do not believe Whole Algal Flour or any single ingredient (at normal, sub-clinical use levels) can be identified as the causative agent – there is just no evidence to indicate a cause-effect relationship for a single ingredient in such complex mixture."
  •  Our algal protein is a different ingredient than our algal flour and not included in Soylent products. Both our algal flour and our algal protein are classified as Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) in compliance with FDA regulations concerning substances for food use. An expert panel reviewed published safety data and all processing information, and confirmed the safety for intended use of these ingredients.
  • We have a long history of success with our algal flour. We are confident in its safety and efficacy – and support extensive testing and expert analysis to definitively show what is responsible for the adverse reactions to Soylent's products.