Carrots and crickets? Scientists research alternative foods using 3D printing technology

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Common sources of protein for many of us are chicken, soy, eggs, and milk, among others. But there are also less popular sources that are very high in protein but not considered safe to eat. These are certain insects and algae that some people in Africa, South America and Asia have already begun to explore. Now that the idea of ​​consuming such foods remains bizarre, researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have come up with an unconventional method to make them more palatable.

Researchers used 3D printing technology to combine commonly eaten foods like carrots with alternative protein sources like crickets to produce an appealing dish. The process of combining different edible inks is considered quite arduous. The team devised a method to incorporate alternative proteins into edible inks and also succeeded in minimizing time and resources by reducing experimental trials.

In their study, published in Food Hydrocolloids, the researchers took the core composite design approach to optimizing protein ink and formulations. The formulation had three variables including carrot powder, xanthan gum, and protein. Carrot powder helped strengthen the mechanical strength and improve the taste, nutrients and color of the formulated ink.

Researchers are also experimenting with alternative proteins like spirulina, black soldier fly larvae, cricket and sericin. The inks were tested for 3D printability and syneresis, where maximum printability and minimum syneresis were observed in optimized inks.

According to Aakanksha Pant, associate researcher at SUTD and corresponding author of the study, the results can also be used for other food ingredients. The response of edible ink like printability, water seepage and texture can then be used for optimization, Pant added.

Highlighting the potential of 3D printing, Professor Chua Chee Kai said the versatility of 3D food printing technology can help overcome consumer inertia when it comes to eating alternative protein sources.

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