It’s a ritual as old as civilization: hunt and gather, cook, masticate, repeat. Like everything else, though, the primal act of eating real food is under siege. Celebrity cyborgs dismiss traditional meals as a wasteful indulgence, and dream of a dystopian diet that’s as grim as it is efficient. Legions of likeminded techies—toiling away at startups from Mumbai to Silicon Beach—can’t wait for the day when autonomous vehicles drive us down the road to gastronomic ruin. These are the people who would gladly spend all their waking hours coding or chasing VC checks instead of visiting a produce market or whipping up a tomato ragù.
Unlike other meal-in-a-pouch products, Ambronite is made from real food instead of processed supplements. Almost semi-palatable if gulped quickly. 500 calories (and 30 grams of protein) per bag is almost enough to keep you from reaching for the trail mix.
Priced not to move. Seriously, it’s expensive. Despite the all the organic ingredients and feel-good vibes, this vegan-friendly shake is still joyless sustenance.
To appease the slow food hater demo, dozens of calorie-dense products promising maximum nutrition with minimal effort have flooded the marketplace. Blendrunner, a clearinghouse for this emerging cottage industry, lists 47 different Soylent clones that target customers ranging from pot smokers (Stoner Shake) to chemists (Joule Fuel) to Hasidic Jews (Schmilk), each one with a convenient carb/protein/fat pie chart. For those who prefer the lifehack approach, DIY Soylent offers hundreds of free open source recipes like Superfood For Fat Guy In His 30s and Trader Joe’s Soy + Whey. Just plug in your own bio/lifestyle data points, and an algorithm will adjust the formulas accordingly.
It may sound easy on a Reddit forum, but making powdered meals from scratch is a tough nut. In fact, just clearing the water-solubility hurdle and minimizing the flatulence-factor (tip: easy on the sulfur) is a time-consuming process. Which is precisely what the sci-fi trope of nutrients-on-demand is not supposed to be. That’s why most bootstrap office drones purchase their instant kilocalories on Amazon. But what if you want a healthy Soylent that’s more Whole Foods than faux foods? Say no more.
Ambronite markets itself as “the world’s first Real Food Drinkable Supermeal.” Like all drinkable supermeals, Ambro R&D regularly tweaks its formula. The company just launched a new recipe that features several improvements. In addition to being easier to mix and yielding a smoother texture, the new stuff is supposed to taste better. Bold statement. Is Ambro v5 the answer to Elon Musk’s prayers, or just more PR malarkey?
Cash for Cache
Ambronite is god-awful expensive. Five packets (five meals) will set you back $ 59. A 10-packet box is a bit cheaper per ounce: $ 99. To put those numbers in perspective, consider that seven bags of Soylent (28 meals) are only $ 54. Huel, another player in the powdered supermeal category, has a similar price-point: $ 55.09 for two bags (28 meals). Some brands charge more, some less. But they’re all roughly in the same range: about two bucks for a single 500 kcal serving. Why is Ambronite more than four times the cost of the competition? To start with, this stuff is made in Finland. The average hourly wage for industrial workers there is €14 an hour ($ 15.50). Throw in fancy organic ingredients, pretty packaging, marketing, shipping, a lot of unbridled greed, and presto: 59 bucks.
In 2014, Finnish sailor Ari Huusela completed a trans-Atlantic solo boat race. His diet during that arduous competition consisted partly of Ambronite. Here’s what Mr. Huusela told the International Business Times about the powdered meal-in-a-bottle invented in his native land: “Ambronite is rich in energy, healthy and feels good. As nutrition it works well.” Just as I cannot block that glowing endurance athlete endorsement from my memory, neither can I un-see the heroic video of Ari lustily chugging a bottle of Ambro at sea. Now that’s product placement: Man pitted against the elements in a life-and-death struggle, fueled only by the sheer will to survive, and the occasional Ambronite shake. Must not allow Finnish Aquaman to cloud my judgement!
It’s In There
The Ambronite hook is that it’s made of real food that’s been pulverized into a fine dust. Unlike other sludge shakes on the market, there are no ultra-processed supplements in this stuff to sully the ingredient list. Those ingredients, limited to just 20 (some organic and “wild grown”), tread the fine line between health food store and Chez Panisse menu.
There is nettle leaf, sea buckthorn, bilberries and black currants. Every line item sounds like something healthy. There’s no artificial anything. That deep green hue, which conjures images of fern-covered Nordic forests, comes not from Green Dye No. 1, but instead a generous portion of spinach, chlorella and spirulina. The two main ingredients are oats and almonds. Ambro is also vegan, non-GMO, and contains no additives or preservatives.
The nutrient pie chart is pretty standard: carbohydrates (40 percent), fat (36 percent), protein (24 percent). One bag is 500 calories and offers 30 grams of protein. Based on the USDA’s recommended 2,000 calorie per diem, four Ambronite bags is a daily allowance. All of the nutrient metadata can be found on Ambronite’s website.
If you buy a 10-pack box, you get a flip-top bottle made of food-safe plastic that looks like a skinny cocktail shaker. Rip open a packet, toss in the Ambro, add H20 (20 ounces) and shake vigorously, like a barkeep preparing a martini. Ambro claims a 2-minute prep time, but I made a mockery of that benchmark. My green goop was ready in 25 seconds flat. Those who have been around the Blendrunner block will marvel at this product’s impressive dissolve-factor and low-grit texture. When reconstituted, most powdered meals resemble grainy pancake batter. Clumping, particularly at the bottom of the glass, is a common problem. That rapid water solubility is a proprietary secret. The smoother texture is supposedly due to the addition of “Nordic oat protein.” Good luck finding that sold in bulk on Alibaba.
Although the new formula was engineered to taste better, Team Ambro doesn’t want to raise expectations on the flavor front. This caveat, sent via email by a PR person, stresses convenience over palatability: “I want to make it clear, one does not drink Ambronite for the taste. One drinks Ambronite to free themselves from the tyranny of cooking food!” Yes, but what about the tyranny of taste? Are coders and trans-Atlantic boat racers doomed to a life of sucking hideous-tasting green sludge from a tube?
So here we go. Ambronite v5 tastes like an oatmeal Slurpee. Ambro’s party line is that the flavor uptick came about because some genius calculated the perfect cranberry-to-billberry ratio. Oddly, though, there is no discernable berry taste. The flavor profile is predominantly vanilla, with faint banana and cocoa notes. A generous amount of agave syrup imparts a honey-like sweetness. Not cloying, but not particularly pleasant either. Foodies who insist on slumming may experience a gag reflex. To be fair, Ambro does taste better than Soylent. In fact, Ambronite v5 might be the best supermeal shake money can buy. Still, that’s cold consolation. The tyranny of taste endures.
One of the problems with a protein shake diet is satiety, or the lack thereof. Pouch-food people know hunger pangs the way Stephen Hawking knows black holes. That’s because chewing is an important part of the digestive process, signaling to the brain that the stomach is filling up. It also helps if the food stays in your stomach for a while. Ambro, for instance, contains plenty of fiber. But that powdered roughage has been ground so fine that it requires far less energy to digest. The green slurry passes through the alimentary canal like a greased eel. When it comes to “feeling full,” there’s nothing like a steak, a potato, and plenty of jawbone action. Ambronite ignores the laws of physiology. Satiety happens to be part of the sales pitch. One serving is supposed to stave off hunger for five hours. That was true for me, but I’m shackled to my desk like Bartleby the scrivener. Those who embrace a CrossFit regimen and Parkour to work every day might be famished three hours after taking an Ambro break.
Manna Or Junk?
Unless you have a medical condition or suffer from anhedonia, eating meals through a straw is a bad idea. Like celibacy, it runs counter to human nature. Evolutionary psychologists believe eating solid food is vital to humans because it permits the release of “dental aggressive urges.” Give up solid food, the theory goes, and you deny yourself an important outlet for tension. Stay on the Ambronite diet long enough, and you could end up bludgeoning your boss to death with a keyboard.
According to Sharon R. Akabas, the director of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, Ambro isn’t a “supermeal with 100 percent of everything” either, as the website propaganda insists. “The idea that this company has created the perfect food formula is ridiculous,” Akabas says. “You would need hundreds of ingredients, and hundreds more that we don’t even know about yet.” What about using Ambro as emergency meal, like on a long flight that serves terrible food? “A couple Snickers bars is cheaper. These people are great at marketing, but terrible at science.”