For all humans, food is a necessary aspect of life. It is something that every one of us interacts with personally. Thus, the scientific world believes that it would be natural for software to be infused with cooking as technology evolves. This would facilitate the preparations of meals that are highly customized. It is similar to having a personal digital chef who can cook any cuisine one likes tailored to their preference of shape, flavour, and texture.
Engineers from Columbia might soon make this a reality. Their new research demonstrated how lasers and 3D printing technology could be used for assembling foods. The approach has the potential to revolutionize Robotics in the Food and Beverage Market as it would be a significant step closer to empowering people to make their food with a click of a button.
The study has been brought forth by Lipson’s group that has been involved in developing 3-D printed foods since 2007. In the past decade, they have successfully created multi-ingredient prints at pace with explorations done by other commercial companies.
While printers can manufacture materials with millimeter-level precision, no heating process can achieve the same level of resolution. Cooking is the most integral part of making good food as it brings out the nutrition, flavour and texture in the dish. Thus, the researchers’ goal was to create a method through lasers that would precisely control all these factors related to cooking.
Researchers investigated different modalities of cooking where they exposed food to infrared light (980 nm and 10.6 μm) and blue light (445 nm). The chicken was used as the model food system. The team printed samples of chicken (3 mm thick by ~1in2 area) as a testbed. After that, they assessed different parameters like color development, cooking depth, moisture retention, and difference in flavour due to stove-cooked and laser-cooked meat. Experiments revealed that laser-cooked meat shrunk 50% less in comparison to stove-cooked while retaining twice the moisture. Further, its flavour development was akin to conventionally cooked meat as well.
In addition, two blind testers employed by the team preferred laser cooked beef over conventionally prepared samples, proving that burgeoning technology holds great promise for the future in becoming a robot chef.
Researchers are excited about the possibilities this new technology would open up. This is also because hardware and software components used in the approach are pretty low-tech. However, on the downside, there is no sustainable ecosystem for supporting such an approach for now. But the team is optimistic that as advancements are made, the approach will become a part of daily life in future.