Some dehydrated cochayuyo seaweed, instant mashed potatoes and hot water: these are the ingredients of a nutritious menu of 3D-printed foods that Chilean experts hope will revolutionize the food market, especially for children.
With a 3D food printer and a modern twist on the traditional use of cochayuyo, a seaweed typically found in Chile, New Zealand and the South Atlantic, Roberto Lemus, a professor at the University of Chile and several students, have succeeded in creating nutritious food. and edible figurines they hope kids will love to eat.
Pokémon figurines, or any type of animal imaginable, are fed into the 3D printer, along with the gelatinous mixture, and the food is “printed” seven minutes later.
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“We look for different shapes, fun figures, visuals, colors, tastes, flavors, smells,” says Lemus. However, the focus is on the nutritional content. “The product must be very nutritious for people, but it must also be tasty,” he adds.
3D food printers are expensive, costing anywhere from $4,000 to over $10,000, but Lemus hopes that as technology advances, their cost will come down and reach more people. The technology is expanding into the culinary realm in dozens of countries, with 3D food printers being used to design candy, pasta and other foods. NASA tested this method in 2013 with the idea of expanding the variety of foods astronauts can eat in space.
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Chile is making progress with cochayuyo seaweed, one of the typical ingredients of the coastal nation’s cuisine, which is rich in amino acids, minerals and iodine. Vasquez, a 25-year-old graduate student writing his thesis on the subject, takes dehydrated cochayuyo and grinds it to create a flour. This is then mixed with instant mashed potato powder. He adds hot water to the mixture to create a gelatinous, viscous substance that eventually enters the printer.
“It occurred to me that potatoes, rice flour, contains a lot of starch. This, combined with the cochayuyo alginate, generates stabilization within the 3D printer,” Vasquez explains, waiting for the printer to finish creating a Pikachu figure about two centimeters (just under an inch) infused with a taste of mashed potatoes and sea.
The project has been underway for two years and is still in its infancy, but the idea is to apply ingredients such as edible flowers or edible coloring to the menu to make it more appealing to children.
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