Lasers could bring the precision of 3D printing to the cooking of food
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.
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.
Source: Columbia University