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While existing methods of food printing are good for certain foods, they have massive limitations. One of the reasons so many food printers rely on purees, simple/easily prepared sweets and single material processes is the lack of ability to prepare different materials under the same device while distributing temperature properly. Now, Columbia University researchers may have found a way to create multi-material food prints in one flow with Infrared Cooking. Moreover, the results are edible and dinner-ready, mixing ingredients as diverse as chicken and dough in one food item.

Many current food printers are reliant on microwaves, ovens, and other common heating appliances. Although these can be effective in certain circumstances, infrared lamp mechanisms allow for precise spatial control for heating. Infrared cooking also allows for the creation of complex, multi-ingredient foods with intricate geometries.

Infrared Cooking Allows Multi-Material Food Printing

FIG. 1: Three-dimensional food printing machine schematic. (1) X-Carve machine is a Cartesian gantry with three degrees of freedom. The z-axis is outfitted with a (2) custom IR housing and extruder and the base has a (6) rack for additional food materials. The custom printing mechanism has several features, including (3) a lead screw guide for stability, (5) a syringe with (4) a holder, (9) a set of syringe guide arms, (8) an extruder end for pressure distribution across the syringe stopper, and (7) an IR spotlight for cooking. IR, infrared cooking.

As the research abstract states: “The machine’s ability to selectively cook and print multi-material food objects represents a significant achievement in this particular application of AM and brings users one step closer to achieving customizable meal-based FLM“.

Infrared-based Food Printing

Infrared Cooking Food Printing

(A) IR spot cooking of (sesame paste and chicken paste). (B) Final cooked print of black sesame and alternating chicken paste and shrimp paste, plated with dill, tomato slices and cracker. (C) Multi-material print of sesame paste, chicken paste, and shrimp paste. (D) Handmade multi-material food object using the same ingredients and structure of (B), while cooked for 10 min at 350°F and placed on cracker.

To team had to create their own mechanism using multiple existing technologies. They retrofitted a a modified X-Carve CNC machine with extrusion/heating mechanisms and an infrared (IR) lamp. They mainly needed the eventual machine to fulfil 3 categories: it needed an extrusion mechanism, an IR cooker, and a software and control system.

The extrusion mechanism is interesting in itself. According to the paper, this extruder and all axes were driven by ClearPath brushless servomotors. The mechanism had a 30-mL clear syringe barrel with a 14-gauge flexible tapered nozzle tip. The syringe fits into a custom 3D-printed plastic syringe holder, which had four 0.25-inch-diameter neodymium magnets.

Infrared cooking also allows for drying, baking, roasting and broiling under uniform heating situations. The presence of infrared technology means the food can cook without any physical contact with the lamp. The custom machine can house up to seven different food materials for a single print job and still heat them to their own specific conditions despite their varying characteristics.

While the printer cooks without contact using infrared, the lamp can generate an impressive 1800°F. So far, the team have made sweet dough, jujube jam, sesame paste, shrimp paste, chicken paste and choux dough using the printer. As the researchers note, “although size deformation and edge dulling did occur, they were negligible and were accounted for in the software model“. They were also able to print sesame, chicken and shrimp pastes all together in one print. As a new way of cooking, it appears to be shaping up to be spectacular and complex. Although, the research is young, it could pave the way for some impressive future infrared cooking applications.

Featured image courtesy of Columbia University, retrieved via Liebert Pub.




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