Science

Lasers could bring the precision of 3D printing to the cooking of food

Lasers could bring the precisi...
For the study, 3D-printed samples of chicken were cooked using a variety of laser light sources, scanning patterns and cooking times
For the study, 3D-printed samples of chicken were cooked using a variety of laser light sources, scanning patterns and cooking times
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A 3D-printed sample of chicken is cooked using a blue laser
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A 3D-printed sample of chicken is cooked using a blue laser
For the study, 3D-printed samples of chicken were cooked using a variety of laser light sources, scanning patterns and cooking times
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For the study, 3D-printed samples of chicken were cooked using a variety of laser light sources, scanning patterns and cooking times

Even though it's now possible to 3D-print foods into millimeter-precise shapes and forms, cooking those printed foods is still a fairly inexact process. Scientists are trying to change that, by using lasers to cook foods to specific optimized standards.

Led by PhD student Jonathan Blutinger, a team at Columbia University started by pureeing raw chicken then extruding it through the nozzle of a 3D food printer, creating samples measuring 3 mm thick by about one square inch (645 sq mm) in area. They then precisely heated that chicken via pulses of either blue or near-infrared laser light, at wavelengths of 445 nanometers for the former and either 980 nanometers or 10.6 micrometers for the latter.

The laser moved across the meat in various trochoidal spiral patterns, with cooking times ranging from five to 14 minutes. An infrared camera continuously measured the surface temperature of the chicken, while eight embedded thermistors monitored its internal temperature.

A 3D-printed sample of chicken is cooked using a blue laser
A 3D-printed sample of chicken is cooked using a blue laser

For the best combinations of light type, spiral pattern and cooking time, it was found that the laser-cooked chicken shrank half as much as oven-broiled control samples, plus it retained twice as much moisture and exhibited similar "flavor development." In fact, in a blind taste test performed by two volunteers, both subjects preferred the taste of the chicken that was cooked with lasers.

"Cooking is essential for nutrition, flavor, and texture development in many foods, and we wondered if we could develop a method with lasers to precisely control these attributes," says Blutinger. "What we still don’t have is what we call 'Food CAD,' sort of the Photoshop of food. We need a high-level software that enables people who are not 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."

The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal npj Science of Food. There's more information on the laser-cooking process in the video below.

Robots that Cook: precision cooking with multiwavelength lasers

Source: Columbia University

2 comments
2 comments
paul314
It's the combination of 3D printing and laser-cooking that apparently works here. Lasers only heat the top millimeter or so of food under ordinary conditions, leading to char on the outside and raw on the inside (just as you get with any other super-intense heat source). But I guess if you're laying down the food in layers only a fraction of a millimeter thick, the laser can cook each layer pretty uniformly.
Dirk Scott
“ the laser-cooked chicken shrank half as much as oven-broiled control samples, plus it retained twice as much moisture”. Or “Why sell meat when you can sell water?” as the infamous water injector advert to butchers had it.