Innovation That Matters

A rendering of a concept for a digital cooking appliance that uses dozens of ingredients and a precise cooking laser to assemble and cook meals using digital recipes. | Photo source Columbia Engineering

The future of food – using lasers to cook 3D printed food

Researchers have found that cooking 3D printed meat with lasers gives a result indistinguishable from conventionally-cooked food

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Spotted: Remember the replicator on Star Trek, and how it could materialise perfectly cooked food instantly? Well, researchers are not there yet, but they are getting closer. The Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University has been building a fully autonomous digital personal chef that can print and cook food to the users’ specifications from a range of ingredients. 

While a large number of groups are working on 3D printing food, mechanical engineering Professor Hod Lipson and his team realised that it’s not enough to just print the food, you also need to cook it. However, the cooking needs to be done as precisely as the printing, in order to preserve the nutrition, flavour and texture of the food. So, they began experimenting with the use of lasers.

The team pureed raw chicken, extruding it using a 3D food printer, to create samples of “chicken breast”. They then heated the chicken using laser pulses of blue light (445 nm) and infrared light (980 nm and 10.6 μm). The laser was directed in a trochoidal spiral pattern (a curve traced out by a point fixed to a circle), with cooking times ranging from five to 14 minutes. They found that the laser-cooked meat shrinks 50 per cent less than using conventionally cooked meat, and retains twice the moisture content while retaining a similar flavour.  

Jonathan Blutinger, a PhD student who led the project, pointed out that, “while printers can produce ingredients to a millimetre-precision, there is no heating method with this same degree of resolution.” At the same time, “Cooking is essential for nutrition, flavour, and texture development in many foods, and we wondered if we could develop a method with lasers to precisely control these attributes.” By at least one measure, they were successful. In a blind taste test, volunteers preferred the laser-cooked meat to the real deal. 

3D-printing tech holds great promise, and not just for food. At Springwise, we have seen 3D printing used for everything from producing tactile maps for the visually impaired to chainmail fabric made of aluminium and an electric tricycle

Written By: Lisa Magloff

Explore more: Science | Sustainability



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