Imagine having your own personal digital chef; ready to cook whatever you want; able to adapt the shape, texture and flavor just for you; and everything is done at the push of a button. That’s exactly what engineers at Columbia have been working to do, using lasers for cooking and 3D printing technology for assembly of food.
Under the direction of Mechanical Engineering Professor Hod Lipson, the Digital Food team at his Creative Machines Lab has built a fully self-contained digital personal chef. Lipson’s group has been developing 3D printed food since 2007. Since then, food printing has evolved into multi-ingredient prints and has been explored by researchers and a few commercial companies.
“We noticed that although printers can produce ingredients with millimeter precision, there is no heating method with this same degree of resolution,” said Jonathan Blutinger, PhD in Lipson’s lab who has led the project. “Cooking is essential for the development of the nutrition, flavor and texture of many foods, and we wondered if we could develop a method with lasers to precisely control these attributes. “
In a new study published on September 1, 2021 by npj Science of Food, the team explored various cooking modalities by exposing blue light (445nm) and infrared light (980nm and 10.6m) to chicken , which they used as a model food system. They printed chicken samples (3mm thick by ~ 1in2 zone) as a test bed and evaluated a range of parameters including cooking depth, color development, moisture retention and flavor differences between laser-cooked meat and laser-cooked meat. oven. They found that laser cooked meat shrinks 50% less, retains double the moisture content, and shows similar flavor development to conventionally cooked meat.
“In fact, our two blind tasters preferred laser-cooked meat over conventionally cooked samples, which shows promise for this burgeoning technology,” said Blutinger.
If Lipson and Blutinger are excited about the possibilities of this new technology, whose hardware and software components are quite low-tech, they see that there is not yet a sustainable ecosystem to support it. Lipson states that “what we still don’t have is what we call ‘Food CAD’, a kind of Photoshop of food. We need top-notch software that allows people who aren’t programmers or software developers to design the foods they want. And then we need a place where people can share digital recipes, like we share music. “
Yet, says Blutinger, “food is something that we all interact and personalize on a daily basis.
Video on Robots that Cook: precision cooking with multi-wavelength lasers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jct3f92rIOE&t=42s
- Jonathan David Blutinger, Alissa Tsai, Erika Storvick, Gabriel Seymour, Elise Liu, Noà Samarelli, Shravan Karthik, Yorán Meijers, Hod Lipson. Precision cooking for printed foods via lasers at multiple wavelengths. npj Food Science, 2021; 5 (1) DOI: 10.1038 / s41538-021-00107-1