Forget animal crackers — future kids food can be 3D-printed

by | Jun 20, 2022 | News

Take a bit of dehydrated “cochayuyo” seaweed, add a little instant mashed potatoes and hot water. mix it all together and put it though a 3-D printer for a menu of 3D-printed food.

Cochayuyo, or rimurapa, as it is known in New Zealand, is a large, robust species of southern bull kelp or seaweed, typically found in Chile, New Zealand and the South Atlantic. With a 3D food printer the algae can be given a modern twist on the traditional uses. Roberto Lemus, a professor at the University of Chile, and several students have created nutritious and edible figures that they hope kids will love to eat. Nutritional experts in Chile are hoping this new approach to processing the seaweed will revolutionise the food market, especially for children.

Pokemon figures, or any type of animal imaginable, are all fed into the 3D printer, together with the gelatinous mixture, and the food is “printed” out seven minutes later.

Food engineer Roberto Lemus displays a sample of 3D-printed food made with cochayuyo seaweed and rice flour at the University of Chile in Santiago.

“We looking for different figures, fun figures … visual, colors, taste, flavors, smells,” Food engineer Roberto Lemus told reporters.

However, the main focus is on nutritional content, he said. “The product has to be highly nutritious for people, but it also has to be tasty,” he said.

The printers are expensive, costing from US$4,000 to more than US$10,000, but Lemus hopes that as technology advances, their cost will come down and reach more people. The technology is developing in the culinary field in dozens of countries, and 3D food printers are used to design sweets, pasta and other foods.

NASA already tested it in 2013 with the idea of expanding the variety of foods that astronauts dine on in space.

Chile is making progress with cochayuyo seaweed, one of the typical ingredients of the coastal nation’s cuisine, and which is rich in amino acids, minerals and iodine, said Alonso Vasquez, a postgraduate student who is writing his thesis on the subject.

The young researcher takes dehydrated cochayuyo, cuts it and grinds it to create cochayuyo flour, which he then mixes with instant mashed potato powder. He then adds hot water to the mixture to create a gelatinous and slimy substance that he feeds into the printer.

“It occurred to me to use potatoes, rice flour, all of which have a lot of starch. The starch of these raw materials combined with the cochayuyo alginate is what generates stabilization within the 3D printing,” he said, waiting for the printer to finish creating a Pikachu figure of about 2cm, and a taste of mashed potatoes and the sea.

The project has been under way for two years and is still in its infancy, but the idea is to apply ingredients such as edible flowers or edible dyes to the menu to make them more attractive to children.

Photos: AFP

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