3D printing food: lab creates 3D food printer that cooks its prints with a laser

Columbia University
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A researcher out of Columbia University created a 3D food printer that cooks its food with a laser.

3D printed food is spreading quickly, but most printed food objects have to go in an oven after they come out of the 3D printer to be cooked. PhD researcher Jonathan Blutinger felt that those processes could be combined, remarking, “We can already cook food with lasers and we can already print food, so the next logical step is to combine both of these projects.”

The food printing apparatus works like nearly every other 3D food printer, by extruding a paste made up of blended food ingredients like potatoes, rice, and other grains, fruits, and vegetables. A laser is reflected off of two servo-driven mirrors that direct the beam onto the printed foods, cooking them with intricate patterns of precise heat.

Blutinger’s goal is to create digital recipes that can easily be configured and shared, saying, “If you try a meal and like it you can simply download and send it to a friend who can try it immediately. It’s like having a personal chef who can perfectly replicate any meal.”

There are many advantages to having a digital personal chef as the machine could create personalized meals and diets that meet specific nutrient guidelines. “Additionally, everybody has their own tastes and dietary restrictions, so when you introduce a data-driven health approach, you can achieve customized and nutrition-rich meals on a per-person basis. Since the machine has knowledge of all the ingredients, it can combine them in unique ways and tailor them to all of your biometric and nutritional needs.”

When working with micro and macronutrients at such a precise level, it becomes easier to shape taste to individual preferences while maintaining nutritional content. The laser can also create any level of doneness and charring, which greatly contributes to pleasant textures and flavors, as Blutinger explains, “So a major advantage of lasers is their really high resolution and total control over where the heat is going, which is really favorable in a food printing application where you have food layers that are only a few millimeters thick. You can cook as the food is laid down layer-by-layer, which is much more effective in this context."

Blutinger also commented on the visual appeal of grill marks that can be simulated by the laser, “The visual aesthetic of food is one of the biggest things we notice regarding quality, so if you can adjust the physical quality of the food by changing the extent you can make it taste better.”

To Blutinger, the major hurdle to reaching mainstream adoption of 3D printed food isn’t technology but marketing. “After five-ten years it really becomes a business question and education process; how you can market it to people – when you talk about food printing, the common reaction is a weird face,” relates Blutinger. “It’s good to be open-minded to new technologies – food printing can at first sound like a daunting technology that doesn’t sound too appetizing, but not once you realize the health benefits and the shareability of food recipes.”

3D printing food: lab creates 3D food printer that cooks its prints with a laser

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