3D-printing method for food could make insect protein mainstream
Image credit: Dreamstime
A method for 3D-printing food could bring alternative protein sources including algae, plant and insects to the mainstream.
As the demand for protein-rich food grows, concerns have been raised about the increasing greenhouse gases, land and water consumption associated with its production – especially when it comes to animal rearing.
Alternative sources of proteins from insects, plants and algae are much more sustainable while still being nutrient-rich food, although they remain off-putting to many people.
“The appearance and taste of such alternative proteins can be disconcerting for many. This is where the versatility of 3D food printing (3DFP) rises to the challenge, as it can transform the way in which food is presented and overcome the inertia of consumer inhibitions,” explained Prof Chua Chee Kai, co-author from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).
The new process can take commonly known foods such as carrots and combine them with alternative proteins such as crickets to produce a more familiar taste to consumers. This mixture of carrots and crickets can then be extruded by a 3D food printer to create a visually appealing dish.
The team used an established engineering technique known as ‘response surface methodology’ and applied it for use in 3D food printing.
Prof Yi Zhang, the principal investigator from UESTC explained: “Alternative proteins may become our main source of protein intake in the future. This study proposes a systematic engineering approach of optimising food inks, thereby enabling easy creations and customisations of visually pleasing, flavourful and nutritionally adequate food enhanced with alternative proteins. We hope our work would encourage consumers to eat more of these unfamiliar but sustainable food items”.
The research team used “protein ink formulations” based on three variables: carrot powder, proteins and xanthan gum. Carrot powder helped provide mechanical strength as well as taste, nutrients and colour to the formulated inks.
Meanwhile, they experimented with alternative proteins such as soy, spirulina, cricket, black soldier fly larvae and sericin.
Aakanksha Pant, corresponding author of the paper added: “This research study can also be generalised for other food ingredients and response of the food inks - like texture, printability, water seepage - may be included for optimisation. The response surface method approach may lead researchers to adopt similar method for optimising 3DFP food inks constituting complex multicomponent food ingredients.”
The same team previously created ‘food inks’ from fresh and frozen vegetables whilst also preserving the nutrition and flavour better than existing methods.
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