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There are numerous advantages associated with combining the continuously advancing technology of additive manufacturing, which is otherwise known as three-dimensional (3D) printing, with food production processes. Some of these benefits include the ability to customize the nutrition components, flavor and texture of food, as well as improve the economic feasibility of mass-producing food products at a low cost. While the concept of 3D printing food products is not necessarily a new idea, Giuseppe Scionti, who is a current researcher at Nova Meat, has taken this combined approach to food production to the next level.
A Brief History of 3D Printing Food
Some of the earliest food products that were produced by 3D printing included sugar sculptures, chocolate, pasta, as well as easy to chew and swallow food items that were specifically targeted for senior customers. Since this method of food production was first introduced, researchers faced several challenges in determining the tangible applicability of this technology. For example, material scientists faced difficulty is maintaining shape stability in their food products and developing compatible printing material that matched traditional cooking processes. Similarly, in terms of the manufacturing technology, researchers often struggled with establishing techniques that were safe, fast and exhibited a high throughput.
When researchers were first beginning to investigate printable biological materials like food items, it was believed that foods such as rice, meat, fruit and vegetables were, by nature, not printable. These beliefs were largely supported by the difficulty that researchers often faced in modifying traditional food recipes through gastronomic techniques in order to allow them to become printable.
Nova Meat’s 3D Printed Meal
In conjunction with other researchers that have been looking to develop standardized methods for the 3D printing biological materials, Nova Meat’s primary researcher. Giuseppe Scionti has spent the last ten years on bioprinting a wide range of synthetic tissues, such as artificial corneas, skin, and ears. As Scionti’s work has progressed, he has transitioned his focus to a different area of 3D printed materials. More specifically, Scionti recently introduced a 3D printed synthetic meat that, while closely resembles a beef fillet, is comprised entirely of vegetables.
In his design, Scionti has rearranged the nanofibers of amino acids obtained from pea and rice proteins into a reddish paste. This paste then flows through a nozzle attached to the end of the 3D printer to produce an entirely plant-based “meat.” Scionti’s 3D printed meat not only exhibits the same nutritional properties associated with a beef fillet but costs less than $3 USD to produce 100 grams of this product. Though more work still needs to be done in terms of incorporating an authentic meat flavor to his product, Scionti has presented his alternative meat to world famous chefs, such as Ferran Adria and Can Roca; both of whom are sure to further improve the quality of this product.
Not only does Nova Meat’s synthetic product provide a promising future towards the industrialization and commercialization of 3D printed meat at an affordable price, but it also eliminates any environmental impact that would normally be associated with meat production processes. Furthermore, by choosing to extract plant protein from peas and rice, rather than avocado or quinoa, Scionti has reduced the global demand to import these food items that would otherwise negatively impact the environment.
Sources and Further Reading
- “3D food printing: A Disruptive Food Manufacturing Technology” – VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
- Sun, J., Peng, Z., Zhou, W., Fuh, J. Y. H., Hong, G. S., & Chiu, A. (2015). A Review on 3D Printing for Customized Food Fabrication. Procedia Manufacturing, 1; 308-319. DOI: 10.1016/j.promfg.2015.09.057.
- “A researcher has developed a plant-based meat substitute that’s made with a 3D printer” – Business Insider