There are a wide variety of feedstocks for 3D printers. There’s PLA, PETG, ABS, carbon fiber, wood, stainless steel, cobalt-chrome, titanium, ceramics and the list goes on. We can now add chicken to the list. Yes, I typed that correctly: chicken. For those of you who are vegetarian like me, this seems like a very strange idea right out of a sci-fi novel.
While there are a variety of methods for 3D printing meat, including more recent bioprinting techniques that involve culturing stem cells, the oldest and most basic involves extruding a pureed paste. This process has been around since about 2005, when professor Hod Lipson and his students developed the Fab@Home 3D printer.
It may be all well and good to be able to print it, but how do you go about cooking 3D printed meat? A team of Columbia University scientists believe they’ve solved whether food can be cooked on the inside using lasers. A Ph.D. student, Jonathan Blutinger, at Lipson’s Creative Machines Lab outlined the proof-of-concept experiment in a study published in the journal npj Science of Food.
The scientists developed a system of software-controlled cooking lasers, as outlined in the following video. As seen below, chicken is the “model” food. First, raw chicken was pureed and placed into a bioprinter, that can create any coveted pattern. Once the chicken has been extruded, Blutinger’s team used various types of lasers to cook it.
A blue laser, a near-infrared laser, and a mid-infrared laser were used to cook the 3D printed chicken correctly. The chicken was cooked at different depths, depending on the colors of the laser and their various wavelengths of light. Red lasers functioned best for browning, whereas blue lasers are best for penetrative cooking. Since the scientists could change the shape of the printed, pureed meat, they were able to play with the surface area and maneuver the distribution of heat across the chicken.
Now here’s the bizarre part of the story: the results were shockingly good! Two blind taste-testers tried out both the laser cooked chicken and conventionally cooked chicken. Amazingly, they chose the former. Sure, it’s a very small sample size, but surprising, nonetheless.
The world of food 3D printing has become increasingly large over the years. Researchers from the University of Birmingham published a paper that reviews various methods and materials related to the scope of it. According to the paper, it is “an area of great promise to provide an indulgence or entertaining experience, personalized food product, or specific nutritional needs.”
Something that is of more interest to myself are the recent developments Revo Foods has been making. Their 3D printing technology is designed to replicate the experience of eating seafood, but with plant-based ingredients. They recently went through a first round of funding where they raised $1.8 million to increase its technology development and accelerate market entry. Revo Foods, previously known as Legendary Vish, relies on plant-based ingredients, like algae extracts and pea proteins, which recreate the texture, color, and taste of authentic seafood.
Of course, food 3D printing isn’t limited to just meat or plant-based delicacies. The Magic Candy Factory, by the German candy company Katjes, is focused on candy printing. Pushing the envelope even further, Nourish3D is 3D printing gummy supplements filled with seven vitamins and nutrients depending on survey answers. Much like all other areas of 3D printing, additive manufacturing is just in it nascency and it’ll be quite interesting to see how it continues to develop over the years. What will the next evolution of AM bring us?
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