Over the past several months, a tiny fraction of consumers of a meal replacement powder and energy bar put out by the company Soylent have complained of pretty adverse digestive reactions, including vomiting and uncontrollable diarrhea. Since 2013 the Silicon Valley startup has been producing its nutrient-dense, just-add-water powder—"a jock protein shake but for nerds," reports Bloomberg—and suddenly, something didn't seem right. Soylent voluntarily stopped making Powder 1.6 and recalled the bars, and wrote last week on its blog that it was investigating which of its ingredients wasn't sitting well with the less than 0.1% of its consumers complaining. Now, the company is blaming algae.
Soylent notes that complaints were not reported with its so-called 1.5 formulation; a key ingredient added to the 1.6 formulation and the bars is algal flour, and Soylent suspects that's the culprit. TerraVia, the company that makes the flour, begs to differ, arguing that it is very safe and has caused few issues though it's been an ingredient in 20 million servings of various products. It points a finger at other Soylent ingredients, like soy protein isolate and glycerin. That said, Colorado energy bar maker Honey Stinger has also recalled a product that contains TerraVia's algal flour due to similar complaints. TerraVia says the companies didn't use an identical ingredient. "Our best guess has been confirmed," reports Gizmodo, which suggested that algae is the problem earlier. (The company's CEO got in hot water over his "experimental living facility.")