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Brave new food

Ready meals — Cancer patients will in the future be able to enjoy 3D-printed and individually customised meals. UCPH researchers are now trying to avoid the whole thing collapsing into a heap.

The desserts are the easiest. Their light, airy and preferably slightly acidic and chilled components are obvious ingredients for a 3D printer.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen are working on a way to print out food that does not involve it all ending up sloshed together in the process. The target group is cancer patients with special needs during their stay at Danish hospitals.

“It is a large, Danish research collaboration which is initially directed against seriously sick cancer patients who have difficulty in swallowing, decreased appetite and nausea, and which have taste disturbances and reduced saliva production. They eat only in order to survive,” says Merete Bøgelund Munk, who is one of the project’s researchers. She is assistant professor in food structure and 3D printing at the Department of Food Science (FOOD) at the University of Copenhagen.

High expectations from researchers

In the project it is about cooking with a high nutritional value. The food must be tasty and easy to eat, swallow and digest, and these are just some of the basic requirements for future 3D-printed foods.

Budget DKK 20 m

Innovation Fund Denmark has provided DKK 14 million funding of the total DKK 20 million budget.

The project started in September 2017 and will run for four years.

It is to carried out as a prototype test in a hospital from 2020.

Several Danish universities and hospitals are collaborating on the project.

“The portions are relatively small, and it is therefore particularly difficult to cook for patients in an efficient way in the hospital kitchen today. It is therefore relevant to conduct research into how we can make individual servings that are tailored to the individual patient’s needs. We do this the most efficiently by 3D-print it, because it automates the process,” says Merete Bøgelund Munk.

The researchers have high expectations for the new technology,” says Merete Bøgelund Munk’s colleague Lilia Arhné, who is professor in dairy-process technology at FOOD:

“The hope is that in the future it will be possible to create dishes with a large variation. Another European project has already shown that it is possible to print out carrots by first boiling and creaming them, adding a stabilizing jelly, pouring it into a container in a 3D printer and printing them out,” says Lilia Arhné.

Yes please, a 3D-printed hamburger

The two researchers are working on solving two different challenges in the 3D printing of food at the University of Copenhagen.

“One task is to be able to print the food in the first place. This is important to ensure that the dish does not simply collapse on the plate. We need to be able to create a structure that holds, but that at the same time does not become too hard. And no cracks should appear in it,” says Merete Bøgelund Munk.

The three researchers in the project

From left: Lilia Arhné, Merete Bøgelund Munk and Wender Bredie, who is Professor in Sensory and Consumer Science at FOOD and a key member of the project.

 

This is the problem that researchers are trying to solve in practice with a 3D food printer that they have purchased for their laboratory for approximately DKK 20,000. With this, they can study what happens when they print out different ingredients from one container. The challenge is that what is printed contains many different components that interact during the printing. No one therefore knows in advance whether the dish will be kept standing or will mush out on the plate.

“Our second task is more theoretical and is to examine how we can print in layers, so that the food tastes more sweet or sour. You can manipulate people’s perception when you print out in layers, because this depends on how the different taste components are distributed within the product,” says Merete Bøgelund Munk.

This part of the project they do not work on with this printer, but manually by using icing bags and moulds. When they know the requirements for the more advanced 3D printers of the future, they will give them on to researchers at Aarhus University, who are to develop the next generation of 3D food printers.

“I imagine that they will be able to both print out bulgur, meat and hamburgers. They will be able to make the food quite attractive with beautiful colours and with a protein and a vegetable portion. But as it s now, it is a slow method of preparing food,” says Lilia Arhné.

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