3D printer

3D-printed food research serves up smorgasbord of edible options

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University of Florida researchers are looking at ways to 3D-print food to benefit people with health conditions, to help in humanitarian emergencies and to reduce food waste.

Two professors in the agricultural and biological engineering department of the University of Florida have been researching the potential of 3D printers to print food. 

Adam Watson and Ziynet Boz have used the 3D printers in their lab to make edible designs made from a viscous food substance like mashed potatoes. 

Although the process would not be a solution to world hunger, the scientists have pointed out how it could make a significant impact on different communities. For example, 3D-printing food could help people suffering from dysphagia or difficulty swallowing, as it can change the textures of different meals.  

Researchers 3D-print food

Researchers 3D-print food/ University of Florida

Image credit: University of Florida

In addition, 3D food printers could also be used for humanitarian purposes, such as during times of war or famine.

Dehydrated foods can be restored to their original state with the addition of water and be 3D-printed into a design that revives the appeal of the snack or meal.

With a 3D food printer, people also have more control over their food waste, as leftover viscous foods could be put into the 3D food printer to produce a new shape that is both appealing and sustainable, thus limiting the amount of food that is left uneaten.

"It could be a great way for parents to ensure their children are getting the necessary nutrients from fruits and vegetables," Boz said. Instead of having to buy products with 'hidden' fruits and vegetables, parents could make their own.

Moreover, 3D-printers could also transform food into tableware, e.g. bread bowls, whereby a viscous substance such as mashed potato can be shaped into a cup, cooked and used to serve food.

"If you have edible tableware, it eliminates the need to wash dishes, which then leads to less water being used or wasted," Watson said.

The researchers have begun studying these use cases and putting them to the test with the help of University of Florida students. In the courses, students learn to develop modelling tools to improve the transformation and flow of matter, as well as work on food's printability, among other learning tasks. 

"We do experiments all the time with various compositions of water or xanthan gum, a thickening agent to ensure the food's viscosity," Boz said. "The students really have become the experts."

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