Chilean experts try to innovate children’s diet with 3D printed food

Technology is advancing rapidly and opening up new and never-before-seen opportunities for everyone. For example, back in the day, nobody would believe you if you said your printer could also cook you dinner but in Chile, nutritional experts hope a nutritious menu of 3D printed food with ingredients of some dehydrated “cochayuyo” seaweed, some instant mashed potatoes and hot water, will revolutionize the food market, particularly for children.

With a 3D food printer and a modern twist on the traditional use of cochayuyo, an algae typically found in Chile, New Zealand and the South Atlantic, Roberto Lemus, a professor at the University of Chile, together with several students, have managed to create nutritious and edible figures that they hope children will love to eat.

Pokemon figures, or any type of animal imaginable, are all fed into the 3D printer, together with the gelatinous mixture, and the food is “printed” out seven minutes later.

Food engineering student Marcelo Beltran shows how to load food in a 3D printer in a University of Chile lab, in Santiago, Chile, June 17, 2022. (AFP Photo)

“We (are) looking for different figures, fun figures … visual, colors, taste, flavors, smells,” Lemus told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

But, he stressed, the main focus is on nutritional content. “The product has to be highly nutritious for people, but it also has to be tasty,” he said.

3D food printers are expensive, costing from $4,000 to more than $10,000, but Lemus hopes that as technology advances, their cost will come down and reach more people.

The technology is developing in the culinary field in dozens of countries, and 3D food printers are used to design sweets, pasta and other foods.

NASA already tested it in 2013 with the idea of ​​expanding the variety of foods that astronauts dine on in space.

Superpower algae

Chile is making progress with cochayuyo seaweed, one of the typical ingredients of the coastal nation’s cuisine, and which is rich in amino acids, minerals and iodine, according to Alonso Vasquez, a 25-year-old postgraduate student who is writing his thesis on the subject.

The young researcher takes dehydrated cochayuyo, cuts it and grinds it to create cochayuyo flour which he then mixes with instant mashed potato powder.

Food engineer Roberto Lemus shows a portion of food before putting it into a 3D printer in their lab at the University of Chile, Santiago, Chile, June 17, 2022. (AFP Photo)

Food engineering student Alonso Vasquez cuts cochayuyo seaweed to process it before putting it into a 3D printer in their lab at the University of Chile, Santiago, Chile, June 17, 2022. (AFP Photo)

He then adds hot water to the mixture to create a gelatinous and slimy substance that he feeds into the printer.

“It occurred to me to use potatoes, rice flour, all of which have a lot of starch. The starch of these raw materials combined with the cochayuyo alginate is what generates stabilization within the 3D printing,” he says, waiting for the printer to finish creating a Pikachu figure of about 2 centimeters (just under 1 inch) and a taste of mashed potatoes and the sea.

The project has been underway for two years and is still in its infantcy, but the idea is to apply ingredients such as edible flowers or edible dyes to the menu to make them more attractive to children.

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