download (12)Have you ever noticed, whether you are attending class or at work, that suddenly food becomes of great interest—even more than usual? Oatmeal cookies look so appealing you’d actually pay for one from a bake sale or a vending machine, and at work, there could be a fight to the death after the hungry herd hustles into the breakroom to grab that last flaky sausage biscuit or chocolate glazed doughnut. In my job, it’s a rush to grab the assignments about food, and at 3DPrint.com, that would most often be new technologies for 3D printing with food—often items like chocolate, varieties of beautiful confections, and even pancakes in your own image.

id43293Of course, in the latest study, scientific researchers are working to take all the fun out this for us and make healthy 3D printed food. They would probably agree also that I should be typing this article in workout gear, perspiring from my walking desk as well. All joking (and calories) aside though, at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd., they aim to 3D print foods that taste good, are good for you, and have a tantalizing texture as well. Bringing material science into the picture, definitely a focus in working with the more challenging aspects of extruding things like food, the researchers are striving to make fun snacks that could one day be 3D printed and found in that vending machine you tend to lurk around on break. And with their ideas regarding excellent nutrition, you would not have to feel guilty about your purchases either.

The team involved sees all the benefits of 3D printing coming forth here with the element of unique designs, customized products, and self production.

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Dr. Nesli Sözer

Nesli Sözer is the principal scientist at VTT, and she explains (see the video below) quite correctly that currently when it comes to the food category, 3D printing is reserved for detailed decorations with icing, as well as the extruding of chocolate and materials for candy. They see this being transferred to many new items in the future, and while the emphasis is on nutrition, they see unique textures as offering the necessary appeal for consumers today with popular items like crisps and gel-like substances to allow for what Sözer and her team refer to as interesting ‘mouthfeels.’ This could also include using 3D printing to create futuristic foods with creamy and soft centers, crispy mix-ins, and toppings that are crunchy such as those many of enjoy for acccentuating our healthy salads.

“However, a great deal of work is needed in order to proceed to industrial-scale production. Equipment needs to be developed in addition to materials. Such equipment could be developed for domestic 3D food printing as well as vending machines,” says Sözer.

The work of Sözer and her team is a Tekes-funded project. They are also partnering with the Aalto University in pioneering new ways to fabricate new foods and textures that are realistic for the consumer market. The researchers are working to create new mixes of ingredients that flow easily for 3D printing practices, are exciting and high-tech—and best of all, affordable.

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The goal is for their results to be used in Finland in a variety of industries from food and ingredient processing to the making of equipment, and developing of related software and online services. This is a comprehensive research and development project, and shows a real commitment for translating all the benefits of 3D printing to the food industry in a more in-depth way than we are currently seeing—not that we find anything at all wrong with fluffy icing or pancakes. But a well-rounded menu, to include healthy 3D printed snacks we can find while on the go, will certainly be welcomed by most.

So far, the 3D printing materials the VTT team has been experimenting with are both starch and cellulose-based. The team is currently also working to develop other concentrates from oat and fava beans, as well as whey. Do you find their idea of the food of the future to be appealing? Discuss in the Finland Researchers 3D Printing Food forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT); News Medical]

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