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3D-printed fresh vegetables become reality with new method

A new way to create 'food inks' from fresh and frozen vegetables that enables 3D-printed food has been developed by Singapore researchers.

The research team claims their method preserves the nutrition and flavour better than existing methods.

Food inks are usually made from pureed foods in liquid or semi-solid form, then 3D-printed by extrusion from a nozzle and assembled layer by layer.

Pureed foods are usually served to patients suffering from swallowing difficulties known as dysphagia. To present the food in a more visually appetising way, healthcare professionals have used silicone moulds to shape pureed foods, which is both labour and time intensive and requires storage.

While 3D food-printing means food can be easily produced in a desired shape and texture in a shorter time, the dehydrated food and freeze-dried powders used as food inks usually contain a high percentage of food additives such as hydrocolloids (HCs) to stabilise the ink and enable a smoother printing process.

High concentration of HCs usually changes the taste, texture and aroma of the printed food, making it unappetising to patients with dysphagia. This may lead to reduced food consumption and malnutrition among patients.

To overcome this challenge, the research team explored various combinations of fresh and frozen vegetables to make the food inks stable.

They said they were able to better preserve the nutrition of the printed food, which was also more palatable and therefore should lead to increased meal consumption by patients.

Professor Yi Zhang, principal investigator from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, said, “Our technology helps to provide dysphagic patients with adequate nutrient-rich and safe diets. Their feeding is more dignified, enabling them to socialise and consume meals that look, feel and taste like regular food.

“Our method of 3D-printing fresh vegetables can be used easily in hospitals; nursing homes; day-care centres for the ageing population with dysphagia, and other swallowing disorders. Our research is also another step forward in digital gastronomy, where we can cater to specific requirements prescribed by dieticians, such as nutrition customisation and visual appeal.”

Corresponding author professor Chua Chee Kai added: “The next frontier of additive manufacturing is 3D food-printing. As the 3D food-printing landscape is increasingly evolving, we are excited to continue pushing the boundaries of this industry to find innovative solutions for global issues, such as food security and sustainability.”

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