3D Food Printing - From Food Sustainability to Customised Nutritional Products



Imagine entering your kitchen and printing your favourite pizza or cake rather than cooking? One small printer to replace all the utensils, oven, while delivering the same taste.


While the concept of 3D printed food is still in its infancy, there are indeed start-ups out there working on realising printed food as a legitimate business model. Not only do a lot of these companies work exclusively with sustainably sourced plant-based raw materials, the design freedom granted by additive manufacturing can also result in personalised food - both in appearance and nutritional value.


The rise of vegan steaks and sushi

Of the companies operating in the 3D printed food space, Redefine Meat is one of the most established. The firm recently unveiled its first industrially 3D printed plant-based product, a steak aptly named Alt-Steak. The beef substitute was fabricated using the 2018 start-up’s patent-pending AM technology and will begin market testing at select high-end restaurants by 2021 (provided COVID-19 allows this).


With 3D printed food, there is always the issue of taste and texture - it’s undoubtedly quite difficult to emulate the look and feel of traditional meat using a robot. This is why Redefine Meat decided to bring in some outside help. The company worked with a number of butchers, chefs, and food technologists (like flavour expert Givaudan) to digitally map more than 70 taste parameters into its 3D printed meat. This includes texture, fat distribution, mouthfeel, and even juiciness - all designed to blur the lines between real and redefined.


With similar plans in mind, Spain-based NovaMeat has also previously developed synthetic 3D printed vegan steaks which mimic the texture of either beef or chicken. Composed of rice, peas, and seaweed protein, the company’s raw reddish protein-filled paste is fed into its custom extrusion-based 3D printer where it can be shaped into a classical fillet.


Red meat not your thing? Not an issue, as student start up Legendary Vish has now commercialized its Legendary Salmon, a 3D printed plant-based sushi. Designed to emulate the real thing, the dual-extruded fillet comes packed with a whole host of environmental benefits. The start-up claims its substitute product can be produced with a 95% reduction in greenhouse gases and up to 90% less energy consumption, primarily stemming from a lack of fishing and fish farming.


Restaurant with soon “Print” hyper-personalised food.


While start-ups are working on perfecting the food, a Tokyo based restaurant offers its customers a hyper personalised 3D printed cuisine. Sushi Singularity offers 3D printed sushi that is hyper personalised to each visitor’s health and nutrient needs. The restaurant requests guest to provide biometric information while doing reservation, which is then take into account by printing the customised sushi.


The restaurant is owned by Open Meals, a Japanese start up developing 3D printing food technology. The company founded in 2018, aims to use to 3D printing to tackle global issues of hunger and sustainability.


3D printed food in academia


While the commercial side of things is certainly underdeveloped, 3D printed food in academia roars on. Researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) recently developed a novel method of 3D printing milk-based desserts, preventing them from being spoilt at room temperature. Unlike many of the other high-temperature extrusion-based processes, the SUTD method utilizes an edible range of inks made of powdered milk. As such, the process enables additive manufacturing with dairy products - a novelty not seen before.


Elsewhere, in Switzerland, a team of researchers from Bern University of Applied Sciences and ETH Zurich are using 3D printing to modulate the perception of sweetness in low-sugar snacks. The novelty here is that the sucrose-based samples taste 30% sweeter than normal, without the addition of any extra sugar content. While it is in its infancy, the approach could be used to cleverly combat broader global health concerns such as obesity and diabetes by fundamentally tricking the human brain into believing the body is getting more calories than it actually is.


Looking at the activity in the 3D printed food market space, it’s clear that even in 2020 the application hasn’t strayed far from its laboratory-based roots. That being said, it certainly has a mountain of potential both in terms of the environment and the economy. While we may not see every household having a 3D food printer in near future, we will surely witness many 3D printing themed restaurant opening in the near future.


The highly-sustainable technology can alleviate natural food shortages while saving on energy costs and cutting back greenhouse gas emissions. With computational methods, we also see material distribution in the printed foods being modified to deliver variations in taste, nutrition, and experience - an exciting prospect.


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