Meet 'Sipreme': Kiwis conjure a Soylent-style meal replacement

Sipreme, New Zealand's answer to Soylent, comes in vanilla, strawberry and chocolate flavours.
MICHEL AUBRY/SUPPLIED

Sipreme, New Zealand's answer to Soylent, comes in vanilla, strawberry and chocolate flavours.

The future of food comes in a sachet.

It began in 2013 with a powdered drink called Soylent, developed in San Francisco by a man named Robert Rhinehart.

At the time, the software engineer explained he was so busy trying to make his start-up viable, he lacked the time, finances and inclination to make nutritious meals. 

Sipreme co-founder Dené Steyn.
SUPPLIED

Sipreme co-founder Dené Steyn.

In fact Rhinehart began to resent eating at all, he told the New Yorker. 

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And so, after reading up on nutritional biochemistry, Rhinehart ordered nutrients in bulk from the internet, blended them with water, and started living off the resulting slurry. 

The concept of a drinkable meal was nothing new – dieters, the elderly and the infirm have been consuming them for decades. But Rhinehart's invention soon had a loyal following in Silicon Valley and sparked a copycat movement that has spread across the world. 

Dené Steyn and Briard Janse van Rensburg are the first to develop a Soylent-style product for the New Zealand market.

A year ago, Steyn, a videographer and van Rensburg, a mechanical engineer, ordered Soylent online.It took six months to arrive, and cost NZ $800 for a month's supply.

But the Auckland couple enjoyed the product – they felt full and it banished Steyn's chocolate cravings. So with the aid of food technologists Cathy McArdle and Janet de Beer, they conjured New Zealand's answer to Soylent, which they dubbed "Sipreme". 

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Like Soylent, Sipreme was crowd-funded. Its $17,000 target was reached within a month, and the first batch was shipped to pledgers in early December. It is now available to buy online.

While there is clearly a market for the products in New Zealand, Soylent and its ilk have generated debate and sometimes dismay among nutritionists and foodies.  

The products claim to be a nutritionally complete alternative to "real" foods. Consumers can swap occasional meals for a shake, but also – at least, in theory – live off them alone.

Steyn explains Sipreme's nutritional blueprint meets the Ministry of Health's recommended daily intake guidelines for the average adult, combining carbohydrates with low glycemic indexes, protein, vitamins, minerals, lipids, fibre, "with a balanced omega fatty acid and amino acid profile".

Steyn says: "We feel that Sipreme, and products like it, will be the new and improved staple food in homes – not just a 'meal replacement'."

Each bag of Sipreme has four servings, which cost less than $4 each, and amount to approximately 500 calories.

Steyn says she and Van Rensburg substitute two meals a day with their product, often visiting restaurants at night. 

"Sipreme is a healthy, fast, convenient option to compliment your lifestyle, but respects the pleasures we get from good food," Steyn says.

"It's a fantastic resource that you can fit into your life however it helps."

But a food's value extends beyond the information panel on the back of a packet. 

Nadia Lim, who trained as a dietician before becoming a celebrity cook, says such shakes detract from food's social benefits, such as communal meals around a table, or connecting with a food's source. 

But for a product that is marketed primarily at tech "geeks", perhaps that's the point. 

Steyn says she and van Rensburg are desk-bound, time-poor, rarely cook or get their recommended intake of fruits and vegetables.

"Hence, we ate badly and are overweight as a result," she says.

"We thought 'bugger that' and made an easy, smart alternative."

The alternative is better than say, a burger and fries, but nutrients aren't all created equal.

"It's a very reductionist view," Lim says.

"It reduces the idea of what we eat to simple individual nutrients, when whole food actually provides so much more than the sum of its nutrient parts."

Lim says it's "a well known fact" vitamins and minerals from natural sources are more "bio-available", meaning the body can use them more easily and efficiently, than synthetic vitamins and minerals.

"The digestion process actually starts way before food gets to your stomach. The smell of food and the mechanical process of chewing actually stimulates your body to release of hormones and enzymes to get ready for digestion. You would be missing all of this part of the process with a liquid meal replacement."

Ultimately though, Lim says, it's unsustainable to eat foods that aren't palatable. 

Soylent is unashamedly bland in taste, which has been compared to watered-down pancake batter.

Sipreme comes in chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavours, which feel slightly grainy upon swallowing, and have faintly soapy aftertastes.

While stomachable, they won't be mistaken for Lewis Road Creamery's milky delights any time soon.

But Sipreme's makers don't apologise for that. 

"Many foods focus mainly on taste and texture – not on giving you the optimum food," Steyn says.

"Traditional meals try to make do with what we find in nature – eating countless different plants and animals in different amounts to get what we need.

"We have redesigned food to give you exactly what science recommends we need, in one easy package."

 

 - Stuff

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