Columbia Researchers 3D-Printed This Vegan Cheesecake
Could the future of cooking be 3D-printing? That’s what researchers at Columbia University set out to investigate in a study that involved 3D-printing a seven-ingredient, seven-layer vegan cheesecake. The study is meant to examine the pros and cons of preparing food with 3D-printing technology.
The study, published in the journal npj Science of Food, involved printing a layered cheesecake from edible food inks. The researchers tested multiple cheesecake designs using seven ingredients: peanut butter, strawberry jam, Nutella, cherry drizzle, banana puree, frosting and graham crackers.
The most successful cheesecake test featured a graham cracker foundation for every layer of the cheesecake, and soft-but-sturdy peanut butter and Nutella were best for the supporting layers. Softer ingredients, like banana puree and strawberry jam, worked best nestled into those supporting layers.
By printing a layered cheesecake, the researchers explored the possibilities and limitations of 3D-printing. Multi-layered printing could lead to more customizations in this type of cooking and could improve food safety.
While food printing has been around since the early 2000s, it is limited to uncooked ingredients and has typically produced foods that aren’t very appetizing. But the study authors believe there could be a lot of potential with the technology, especially for creating plant-based foods that mimic animal-based products. They improved upon existing technology by including a laser to cook ingredients during the printing process.
“Because 3D food printing is still a nascent technology, it needs an ecosystem of supporting industries such as food cartridge manufacturers, downloadable recipe files, and an environment in which to create and share these recipes,” said Jonathan Blutinger, lead author of the study. “Its customizability makes it particularly practical for the plant-based meat market, where texture and flavor need to be carefully formulated to mimic real meats.”
The study acknowledged that current food trends are moving away from processed foods, a category under which 3D-printed foods would fall. But the increasingly precise process and customization of foods made this way could provide nutritious options and offer more appetizing food options for people with swallowing and other digestive disorders.
The combination of laser cooking and 3D-printing could allow chefs to prepare more unique dishes that could even be designed to meet specific nutritional needs for a wide variety of people. This system could also make food and cooking more affordable and sustainable.
“Ingredients could be sourced and processed for consumption locally, assisting local farmers and food purveyors,” the study authors wrote. “Advocates also point to this technology’s ability to help produce products such as plant-based meats, algae, and lower-cost unconventional proteins to consumers. Printed and laser-cooked food also offers opportunities for manufacturers to extend shelf-life, since the heat, light and oxygen involved in the process can be controlled on a millimeter scale. Lastly, food waste could also be reduced since users would just be printing the ingredients they want to consume.”
The authors also noted that 3D-printing could be promoted to families as a way to reduce food waste and minimize energy consumption for cooking.
But these methods will require more research and fine-tuning to make 3D-printed food more accessible, especially as the devices would be costly for early adopters. Existing technology can only handle a limited number of ingredients at once, and there is no database for recipes. Still, the researchers see potential in 3D-printing for food.
“As digital cooking technologies become more ubiquitous, it is feasible that humankind will see the nutritional merits and drawbacks of having software-controlled assistants in the kitchen. 3D food printing has the potential to be the next frontier in cooking,” the study authors concluded. “An industry built around this technology may be on the horizon, creating a new vision of better nutrition, better food accessibility and palatability for many, increasing food safety and adding art and cutting-edge science to the most basic human need—nourishment.”
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