3D-printing insects mixed with vegetables could help us to prevent food crisis

Scientists succeeded in studies that can prevent the food crisis with a 3D printer.
Nergis Firtina
3D printing insects
3D printing insectsiStock
  • Scientists from SUTD try to solve the food supply problem with 3D printing.
  • They decided to combine the insects, algae, etc., with more commonly-eaten vegetables.
  • In addition to commonly eaten vegetables, nutrients, and color, the carrot powder helped provide mechanical strength to the formulated inks.

As the world's population increases day by day, the need and demand for food also increase. Because of the greenhouse gas emissions, increased water, and other factors, food sources could be a huge problem for some. In fact, some products such as insects and algae have already been consumed in some countries in Asia, South America, and Africa. Therefore, scientists have been working to solve this problem for humanity.

As sciencedirect.com reports, a team of researchers at Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD) has been looking for ways to deal with future food supply problems and decided to just print some. Rather than eating crickets or larvae by themselves, researchers decided to combine them with more commonly-eaten vegetables like carrots to change the flavor.

"The appearance and taste of such alternative proteins can be disconcerting for many. This is where the versatility of 3D food printing rises to the challenge as it can transform how food is presented and overcome the inertia of consumer inhibitions," says Chua Chee Kai, Study Co-Author and Professor at Singapore University of Technology and Design.

3D-printing insects mixed with vegetables could help us to prevent food crisis
Optimized ink printing of pyramid, octopus, and turtle

Combining foods is not an easy process

According to Azom, combining various food inks and optimizing them for 3D food printing is not an easy operation. The process mainly proceeds by the trial and error method. For this reason, Prof. Chua and his team worked with scientists from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) to make the process go more smoothly.

"Alternative proteins may become our main source of protein intake in the future. This study proposes a systematic engineering approach to optimizing food inks, thereby enabling easy creations and customizations of visually pleasing, flavorful, 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," says Yi Zhang, Study Principal Investigator and Professor, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China.

Using the central composite design approach, the study team optimized the protein ink compositions with three variables—carrot powder, proteins, and xanthan gum. In addition to flavor, nutrients, and color, the carrot powder helped provide mechanical strength to the formulated inks.

Aakanksha Pant, the corresponding author of the paper and Research Associate from SUTD, stated, “This research study can also be generalized for other food ingredients, and the response of the food inks like texture, printability, water seepage may be included for optimization. The response surface method approach may lead researchers to adopt a similar method for optimizing 3DFP food inks constituting complex multicomponent food ingredients.”

Study abstract

Three-dimensional food printing (3DFP) of multicomponent inks fortified with alternative proteins can help drive consumers towards easier and greater acceptance of alternative proteins by familiar nature of the final printed products with respects to taste, texture and appearance. Protein fortification is a well-established way of improving the nutritional and functional properties of foods and helping prevent malnutrition. This work focuses on the optimization of multicomponent food inks containing alternative proteins through response surface methodology (RSM) for 3D printing. RSM reduces the number of experiments required to robustly investigate the interrelationships between the desired response and composition of inks, thereby saving precious resources and time. A plant protein, three insect proteins, and an algae protein along with a traditional animal protein were chosen to fortify carrot powder. Usage of carrot as a vegetable food base to which different proteins and xanthan gum were combined served the purpose of adding flavour and nutrition as well as providing desired rheological properties for printing. The six protein inks were optimized with the addition of hydrocolloid xanthan gum which worked as an excellent shear thinning and hydrating agent. Printability and syneresis were the targeted responses for optimization by RSM with the second order multiple linear regression model. The rheology, microstructure and textural profile of optimised protein inks were also studied. This RSM-based approach for multi-component food ink optimization is envisioned to be widely adopted in 3D food printing.

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