Using 3D printing and lasers, Columbia Engineering's Creative Machines Lab fabricated a seven-ingredient vegan cheesecake. The final iteration is shown at full scale.
For decades, researchers have been exploring the boundaries of 3D printing, using this technology to produce a variety of consumer goods ranging from shoes and furniture to human organs and even a rocket. However, the question remains as to whether 3D printing can be used to create fully baked desserts that can be made in a regular home kitchen. In an effort to answer this question, a team of engineers at Columbia University recently used a 3D-printing machine, along with laser technology, to assemble and cook a seven-ingredient vegan cheesecake. The study, published on Tuesday in the NPJ Science of Food journal, represents a significant step forward in the development of practical applications for mechanically assembled food using 3D printing. While the necessary machines already exist, at least in Columbia Engineering’s New York laboratory, there is still much to be explored in terms of how this technology can be effectively applied to cooking.
Peanut butter is deposited onto a layer of graham cracker paste as part of the 3D-printing process.
Blutinger, commenting on the taste of the 3D-printed food, compared the experience to Willy Wonka's famous three-course dinner chewing gum from Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Just like the gum that tastes like soup, roast beef, and blueberry dessert, Blutinger's 3D-printed food offers a range of flavors that hit the palate at different times.
He further explained that the printing process allows for localized flavors in the cheesecake. While some people may find the idea of cooking with lasers concerning, Blutinger emphasized that it is no different than using a microwave or broiling food in an oven with infrared coils. Moreover, most of the ingredients his team used were readily available from a grocery store without any special additives.
In the future, Blutinger hopes to conduct a nutritional study to analyze how cooking with lasers may affect the food on a molecular level. This could help increase public acceptance of this novel cooking method.
The primary barrier to widespread adoption of 3D printing in home kitchens is the cost. The device used by Blutinger and his team likely cost around $1,000, not including the lasers, which can be as expensive as $500 each. However, Blutinger noted that the price of lasers has dropped significantly in recent years due to advances in Blu-ray disk players. He believes that the technology will become more commercially viable in the next five years or so as the price point becomes more reasonable for consumers.
According to Dr. Xiang Zhang, a research scientist at MIT who works on 3D-printed medical devices, 3D food printers have the potential to become widely adopted consumer products similar to Keurig coffee makers. He is excited about the concept of a machine that can print food while it cooks. However, there are still challenges to be addressed, including reducing costs to an acceptable level and ensuring that the food tastes good.
Blutinger added that 3D printing can provide benefits to nutrition-conscious individuals and those with eating conditions, such as dysphagia.
While Blutinger acknowledges his desire to innovate as an engineer, he also recognizes the potential benefits of 3D printing in the culinary world. The article provides a link to a recipe for cheesecake for those who cannot wait for the machine.
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