Printing up the perfect plate of food
Picture a mouth-watering meal. Are you thinking of assorted mounds of mystery mash? Probably not - and if you rely on pureed food, that is an issue. EU-funded researchers have turned to 3D printing to find a way to prepare appealing food for people who cannot chew, in a bid to help preserve their nutritional status and quality of life.
© nukies1234 #205355948, 2018. Source: fotolia.com
The 3D food printing process proposed by the EU-funded Performance project is designed to produce tempting, nutritious meals for people with chewing or swallowing difficulties. It is an evolution of the Smoothfood concept introduced by lead partner Biozoon, says project coordinator Matthias Kück on behalf of this German food innovation company.
Presentation is one of the key assets of this unusual cuisine: while the various foods on the plate are mashed, each is set in a recognisable form. A gelling agent ensures that the meal holds its shape.
The process initially developed involves the use of silicone moulds. Kück, who refers to this stage in the deployment of the concept as Smoothfood 1.0, reports that it is already being implemented by some 1 500 retirement homes and hospitals.
The Performance project, he notes, was launched to take the idea to the next level with the help of 3D printing. The aim, more specifically, was to make these meals faster, easier and more cost-effective to put together, potentially on an industrial scale, and thereby to make them more widely available. Smoothfood 2.0 involves pureed, strained foods such as cauliflower, pasta or meat being layered to replicate recognisable servings of each and produce an enticing, instantly identifiable dish.
As a further advantage, this additive manufacturing technique allows for personalisation, despite the fact that it is intended for rapid production of large numbers of such meals. Aspects such as the composition, amount and calorie content of individual plates of food can be adapted to accommodate the preferences and nutritional requirements of specific consumers. The meals, once printed, are frozen and subsequently reheated.
The Performance project ended in October 2015. It demonstrated, for the first time, that it is possible to use fresh food in a 3D printing process, Kück says. We are continuing trials for the production of ready-to-eat Smoothfood meals, he concludes..