Could 3D-printed food be the future of cuisine for the elderly?

Some say 3D printing -- shown here at the "Inside 3D Printing" conference and exhibition in New York -- is the future of manufacturing, but could that extend to food?

Yes, ideas of printable versions of meat and vegetables are being cooked up in laboratories around the globe and researchers say it could be the solution for people with difficulties chewing or swallowing, namely the elderly.

The research consortium for a project called Performance is developing an industrial process for 3D-printing food, and though the concept may sound absurd, the European Union, aware of the potential for increasing quality of life for the elderly, is funding it.

If it becomes a reality, personalized food, as it's being called, could offer more nutrition to those who are otherwise limited to porridge and other such foods that are easy to swallow.

Manufacturers would be able to enrich the meals with protein, vitamins and minerals, taking a personalized approach depending on the dietary objectives of the individual, according to Sandra Forstner from Germany-based food innovation company Biozoon.

The food would be printed layer by layer, which would make a variety of presentations possible and perhaps brighten the day of elderly folk whose meals at assisted living facilities can appear dubious.

"In theory, using 3D printing you can have more variation in texture," says Herman Peppelenbos, a project manager at Wageningen UR Food and Biobased Research in the Netherlands.

At present, researchers are at work trying to make meat and vegetables printable in the goal of creating a prototype of the food printer and allowing elderly participants to taste-test the offerings by the end of the Performance project.


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