Scientists have used 3D-printing to make automobile parts and prosthetics before but now 3D-printing food is becoming a reality. Researchers from the Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology (IIFPT), Thanjavur, have printed a nutritious snack using millets, green gram, fried gram and ajwain seeds. Taking just five to seven minutes to print, followed by a microwave drying process, this technology may help in customising food according to the individuals’ nutritional requirements.
Size of a mixie
“The printer is approximately the size of a mixie, weighing below 8 kg and can be carried around. It was also indigenously developed and completely fabricated in India. This brings down the cost to less than Rs.75,000, while most printers in the market are expensive and cannot be conveniently used for multi-material food printing applications,” says C. Anandharamakrishnan, Director of IIFPT and corresponding author of the paper published in the Food and Bioprocess Technology.
All the raw materials were hot-air dried, ground to fine particles and sieved to about 0.2 mm. Adding salt, spices, distilled water, they are made it into a paste and fed into the 3D-printer.
The flow, temperature, printer nozzle size and printing rate or speed was optimised after several trials. For further treatment of the printed snack, the researchers tried deep frying, hot air drying and microwave drying and found that the latter was the most efficient method.
High protein, fibre
The snack was also analysed for its colour, texture and taste. They also found that the snack had high protein and fibre content. “We can customise the nutrient content according to the need of the person. We tried this at a local school where we printed in shapes loved by children so that we can give them high nutrient food,” adds Dr. Anandharamakrishnan.
Earlier this year, the team had earlier made egg yolk and egg white into a printable form and studied its material characteristics, and optimised the printing conditions. This work was published in the Journal of Food Engineering.
According to a scientist working in 3D-printing, food printing is in early stages in India, because to print food the dynamics and mechanics need to be fully understood. Though this may not be a solution to any food crisis or help altering the food manufacturing process, it may prepare ourselves for the future, he says. Perhaps one day this method may help print food at the International Space Station or any such environment. Instead of increasing the shelf life, printing food when and where needed can be a better option.