Before I begin explaining what the hell I’m talking about I just want to say that if anyone from Huel.com is reading this (give me free stuff), phrases like “orthorexic health filth”, “scific nutriglop”, etc, are just me making fun of my own preoccupations. As you’re about to find out, I’m very excited by this thing and the possibilities inherent in it, and so are a surprising number of my friends.
The deal with Huel appeals to be that it’s a powder that contains your entire nutritional needs which you mix up into shakes and then you don’t have to turn into a ball of neurosis about whether not eating fish for two days mean your eyes are going to implode or, if you’re me and work on night shift, if failing to eat eighty pieces of fruit and a thousand yogurts means you’re going to crumble into a scurvy-ridden bowl of osteoporophic dust.
A friend who engages in pastimes such as punching bears and running up hills recently alerted everyone in her internet vicinity to the existence of a miraculous substance. Quoth she: “The science fiction trope of a nutrient gruel so ubiquitous that it has its own TV Tropes page is now a reality”; and I, obsessive maker of increasingly tiny food and hopeless slave to new gadgetry, proceeded to shriek “I WANT THIS AND I’M EMBARRASSED” on every social media platform upon which I routinely reside.
To my surprise, instead of calling me a weenie and pointing out that just because something uses Helvetica does not make it true, several of my friends responded:
- Oh yes I’ve got some of that it’s good for days when I can’t decide what I want to eat.
- I’ve been meaning to buy this, I think it will help when I’m too exhausted from [list of horrifying chronic health conditions, full-time work, and child-rearing duties in various combinations] and don’t want to resort to eating crap.
- Got some for when I have surgery to recover from and won’t be able to eat properly.
- Would you like to go halves on some? My lunch breaks are too short for me to actually get to the shops and I think this might help me to actually eat lunch.
I dithered a bit. My house is already a museum to weird food fads, not least the unceasing tide of Paketsu, whatever delights TokyoTreat have sent me that I haven’t managed to actually eat yet, and currently about ten types of no-calorie energy drink, not to mention the array of bizarre flours, powders, and stock cubes I insist on collecting (look, it’s not hoarding if it’s not perishable).
“It’s sort of like liquid porridge,” quoth friend, “and you get a free t-shirt.”
Well, I thought, I really do not need any more t-shirts.
But I like porridge, and after a concerted reading session of the website when I probably should have been engaged in, say, work, or sleeping, or looking where the hell I was going while walking somewhere, I found that someone had already considered the possibility of baking with it.
The Games Begin
The fun starts with the drop. As in, I had to take two buses into deepest, darkest Tower Hamlets to get to the friend I’d gone halves with, and an exchange of a SACK of nutritionally complete dubious powder took place on a windswept, rainy corner in an inconspicuous carrier bag.
Then I brought home a Very Nicely Designed Sack with a scoop and a zip seal that hasn’t had as thorough engineering as the logo (I have resorted to rolling and pegging to keep it closed) and began the important work of finding out what I can do with this weird shit.
Doing It Properly
There are two types of people in this world when faced with a new concept they have to interact with/learn to use in some way. Those who decide they are going to follow the instructions and get it exactly right, thus achieving the peak of the on-label use of an item, and the people who see something and go “I wonder what entirely unrecommended use I can put this to, I must experiment with every single one of them immediately and never actually bother learning how to use it for the intended thing”.
I am the latter, which is why I made a cake in my rice-cooker the first time I used it.
However, occasionally this approach has led to, well, things going “bang” or catching fire (often those things are me)… sometimes one likes a guinea pig.
Fortunately someone among my friends had already guinea-pigged it just before I got my hands on the stuff.
“It’s watery,” he said, referring to the recommended 5:1 ratio of water to Huel, “and it doesn’t taste very nice.”
Shortly after this my purchasing co-conspirator noted that hers had been made “claggy” by the addition of peanut butter. Forewarned, forearmed, and adequately fireproofed, I fetched down my safety goggles, and went to work.
First, I decided to, in a departure from my wont, follow the instructions.
Well, sort of.
Instead of a 5:1 ratio of water and unadulterated Huel what I actually did was sift Huel through a dusting sieve and add two scoops of coconut “drink” (thanks, M&S, that’s not at all ominous) that happened to be lying around, and three scoops of hot water, producing a pleasantly warm glop which I then attacked with a hand blender. I rather imagine that if I hadn’t insisted on sifting into a milkshake glass I could just have put it in the knock-off Nutribullet thing and mixed it that way. At any rate, the end result wasn’t too watery, and thickened up fast enough, as my peanut-butter experimenting friend had promised.
In the interests of making it taste of something (it does, in actual fact, taste faintly of unsweetened, unsalted porridge, but I appreciate that’s quite unnerving for an entire milkshake’s worth of drink), I lobbed in two teaspoons of Walden Farms caramel dip, which is a boon to the calorie-obsessed as it contains nothing even slightly approaching food.
This is how it ended up looking. Breakfast with a cup of tea (spot the peg); accounting for the coconut milk it came in at 190 calories and kept me full until lunchtime. Texture: rather like a bircher had a baby with an anemic smoothie.
Then I went to town, in a limited way. Adding no flavours (well one, in a cheat you’ll see at the end), and experimenting solely with structural additions:
ORGRAN NO EGG NATURAL EGG REPLACER
The first order of business was to reduce the water to Huel ratio to even, and get something more malleable:
This is a 1:1 ratio of Huel and water. It’s basically cake batter.
Fried in a pan with minimal cooking spray, it comes out a bit like a chapati:
I love a chapati, and I think with a little less water a more workable/rollable dough could be produced.
However, I also love a pancake, and I know from my socca experiments that you can make them with just flour and water. So I did. Well, with a small cheat.
1/4 tsp Orgran egg replacer
Apart from the slight oaty taste and the reduction in flexibility that comes from not including an egg this was not really noticeably different from yet standard pancake (British iteration, not American).
I also know from besan/socca experimentation that pancake batter on a sheet in the oven makes biscuit.
185C fan oven 15 minutes (on silicon baking parchment).
Bit inchoate. I mean, it held together and everything but felt fragile. I thought I’d fortify it, so went with what I would call more cake batter next:
1/4 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp Organ egg replacer
1/4 tsp water
185C fan oven 15 minutes.
And lo, a perfectly serviceable savoury cracker did appear.
But what I was really interested in was the noble, humble, neglected Savoury Cake:
1:1 ratio of Huel and Water (tbsp)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp Orgran egg replacement
1/4 tsp water (for the Orgran)
1/4 tsp olive oil.
185C fan oven for 15 min.
In cake form – I suspect Orgran won’t cut it if you want something spongy, as this fragile and crumbly construction (not too fragile and with some integrity and bubbles, although definitely not a sproingy mattress of softness either) was the result of a standard amount of baking powder. Interestingly it puffed up immediately, producing a kind of foam-batter which was very light. Perhaps I’ll try frying that like a hot cake in future rounds, and certainly EGGSPERIMENTS are indicated in the cake line (I am so sorry, I blame Easter for turning me into Pun Dad). Perhaps gluten free bakers could suggest how to use xanthum gum here to achieve a more satisfactory bind, as I have never laid eyes on the stuff and have NO CLUE WHAT I’M DOING. As is probably evident.
I doubt bread is going to work with this but pfft, I don’t actually like bread very much…
Then I got full of myself, and made soup:
Well, sauce. Using the 5:1 ratio of Huel and water recommended for the shakes, plus a Kallo tomato stock cube, resulted in something quite intense and reasonably thick. Possibly a bigger batch to improve the stock to Huel ratio next time.
Chapati, two biscuits, a pancake/crepe, and a cake, plus soup.
I’m wondering if I can use this to make muhallabieh.