Can We Print Crispiness?

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Food demands are becoming harder to achieve. Consumers want personalised, unique foods that have familiar mouthfeel, texture, and are nutritious. At the same time, they also expect it to be from a sustainable source and a part of the solution to solving world hunger. Food manufacturers can now meet all those demands with one technology. By Daniel van der Linden, business development manager, TNO

Additive manufacturing (AM), popularly known as three dimensional (3D) printing, has been called the next industrial revolution and is currently employed in many manufacturing processes using traditional materials like plastics and metals. The technology makes it possible to produce 3D shaped products that were impossible to manufacture using other manufacturing technologies.

Furthermore, AM allows for the production of a desired product with the ideal specifications and at the required location. Imagine printing spare parts for a space mission at the International Space Station, cells for cancer research or even a functional bionic arm. The possibilities for AM applications are only limited by one’s own imagination.

3D Printing In The F&B Industry

One such application for 3D printing is in the food industry. Currently, the confectionery, chocolate and pasta segments have been identified as good markets to kickstart 3D printing foods, due to the great possibilities it offers for the creation of improved or new food products. The technology also opens up opportunities for the food industry to develop new business models for personalised food production on a consumer, food service or factory scale.

On top of this, 3D printing can also help to address many of the world’s concerns with regard to food including reducing waste and residue streams, while promoting healthy and fresh products, and enhancing the fun of the food experience.

Printing Texture And Mouthfeel

3D printers can be used to personalise designs and create
texture of food.

The working principle of a 3D printer is not very different from standard printers: a new shape is designed in three dimensions with computer graphics tools and translated into machine language. With just one mouse click, the blueprint is done. Following this, food products can be built layer by layer directly from a 3D computer design through fused deposition modelling. This allows new ingredients, textures as well as nutritional features to be incorporated into the product, thereby allowing personalisation.

Consumers enjoy food not only because of its taste, but also for its texture. Most food enjoyed by consumers have multiple and complex texture structures, for example the contrast between a crispy crust and a soft inner core in bread and snacks. Most food products composed of combinations of various carbohydrates, protein, lipids and water can have its texture vary when an ingredient is replaced, as it causes the final structure of the product to change. The trick with 3D printing of foods is to get the combinations correct.

Therefore, the creation of textures poses the biggest challenge as textures are the result of the interplay between materials and formulations, and the processing technologies. In terms of functionality, the question is no longer “can we print a biscuit” but it has become “can we print crispiness”.

Future Of 3D Printing

Experts see a big role for 3D food printing in answering this question. In both the short and long term, it is predicted that 3D printing can help develop unique products that cannot be made using other methods, or to be able to create healthy alternative for food products by reducing the amount of sugar or salt, and yet still maintain the original mouthfeel and texture.

Considering what AM can bring to the food and beverage industry, the technology is definitely one of the next big step and things to look out for in the near future. As it paves the way for completely new ways of shaping, designing and manufacturing of food products, one can only imagine the kind of innovation it will bring to the retail stores.