I’m sure you’ve heard about 3D printing already, but do you really understand how it works?
A major shift is taking place in the food industry.
There is an increased awareness in our society that nutrition is the foundation of one’s health, making consumers much pickier when it comes to buying their food. Not only are consumers more mindful; they are open to an innovative, customized sensory experience that can blend technology and nutrition into one. This new consumer’ need encouraged the development of new technologies, such as 3D printing, also known as bioprinting.
The adventure of 3D food printing started back in the early 2000s where it was mainly used to create visually complex geometrical structures beyond the limits of traditional food production. For example, making chocolate figures or sugar sculptures.
Recently, this technology is shifting its attention to produce a nutritional value to meet someone’s individual needs. Meaning, it has the potential to create individualized food products with specific characteristics: such as flavor, color, texture, and nutritional profiles.
But now the question is, how exactly can food be produced from a printer?
There are various techniques employed in food printing, but the most common ones are extrusion-based printing, inkjet printing, binder jetting, and selective laser sintering.
Extrusion based printing
The concept of extrusion technology is based on the usage of soft materials or semi-solid viscous systems.
Fresh food items, such as fruits, vegetables, seafood, and meat are suitable for extrusion since they can be blended and liquefied. Natural fresh smoothies, for example, cannot maintain a well-defined shape after extrusion, therefore food additives such as hydrocolloids (e.g. starch, gelatin, xanthan gum, guar gum, pectin, etc.) are required to facilitate printability, flowability, and solidification of the end product. Also, it is recommended that the machinery temperature is held below 4 °C throughout the process to prevent microbial development and food contamination.
The chosen biomaterial is held in a cartridge, dragged through a nozzle where it can be heated, and deposited layer by layer on the printer’s platform using horizontal nozzle movements and vertical platform movements.
This technology is the most popular among the new emerging companies that are creating plant-based meat alternatives.
For example, Nova Meat is using this 3D printing extrusion technology to create their plant-based pork and beef, made of pea and rice isolates, extra-virgin olive oil, brown seaweed extract, and beet juice concentrate. Creating a plant-based meat alternative with an authentic look, feel, and taste to a real steak.
Also, other companies such as Redefine Meat, Cocuus, and Revo Foods are creating their own plant-based protein alternatives, creating meat and/or seafood alternatives, through the application of bioprinting.
The technology of binder jetting can be used only with powder-based materials such as chocolate powder, milk powder, starch, etc.
This process consists of two main steps which are repeated until the food product is created. The first step consists in applying the food powder layer by layer with a re-coater. The re-coater uses great precision to apply the powdered material to the building area, positioning the powder grains perfectly above each other. Subsequently, in the second phase, the printhead adds the liquid binder and releases the binder material to connect with each grain of the molding. The surface is heated by radiation to improve mechanical qualities, allowing the next layer to be deposited.
These procedures are continued until the desired object is obtained. Lastly, the molding material is removed, and the printed product is obtained.
This method consists of ‘printing out’ an image from a digital file as food decoration or surface fillings.
Tiny food ink droplets are generated and deposited onto the food’s surface, commonly a cake, cookie, coffees, or beers. To implement this technology, foods with low viscosity, such as pizza sauce or water-based drinks, are ideal for this approach.
The print-head is not in contact with the food during the printing process, therefore inkjet printing is referred to as a non-contact approach, which protects the food from contamination while the printing process is taking place.
Recently, Coccus 3D printing brand released their new Inkjet printer, COCUUS LEVEL-UP, a small, simple to use tool that allows the personalization of coffees, beers, plates, or any surface, remotely through your smartphone. Amazing isn’t it?
Selective laser sintering
The printing materials for this technology are usually based on different mixes of powdered components. Powdered components are a direct result of using a dehydration process to transform fresh ingredients (vegetables for example) into a powdered form. This process is based on melting the powder particles and assembling them together.
The process will be defined previously by a 3D digital description encoded in a software program. Firstly, the laser beam will act as a heat source selectively fusing the powder material by scanning in a cross/section motion. After the first layer is scanned, a new powder deposit is applied above it, repeatedly until the 3D food object is formed in the desired shape.
As you can see, 3D food printing is a rapidly growing sector of food processing and gastronomy, with many opportunities to expand.
Are you as excited as we are to see what the future of 3D printing will be?