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Home > Food> Discover > Do 3D printers and seaweed hold the key to childhood nutrition?

Do 3D printers and seaweed hold the key to childhood nutrition?

Scientists at the University of Chile are printing nutritious dishes, which are made of seaweed and shaped like Pokémon characters to make them more appealing to kids 

Food engineer Roberto Lemus shows a sample of candy made with cochayuyo seaweed and rice flour, Photo: AFP
Food engineer Roberto Lemus shows a sample of candy made with cochayuyo seaweed and rice flour, Photo: AFP (AFP)

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Some dehydrated cochayuyo seaweed, instant mashed potatoes and hot water: these are the ingredients for a nutritious menu of 3D printed food that  experts in Chile hope will revolutionise the food market, particularly for children.

With a 3D food printer and a modern twist on the traditional use of cochayuyo, —an algae typically found in Chile, New Zealand and the South Atlantic— Roberto Lemus, a professor at the University of Chile and several students, have managed to create nutritious and edible figures that they hope kids will love to eat.

Pokémon figures, or any type of animal imaginable, are fed into the 3D printer, together with the gelatinous mixture, and the food is "printed" out seven minutes later.

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"We looking for different shapes, fun figures, visuals, colors, taste, flavors, smells," says Lemus. The main focus, though, is on nutritional content. "The product has to be highly nutritious for people, but it also has to be tasty," he adds.

3D food printers are expensive, costing from $4,000 to more than $10,000, but Lemus hopes that as technology advances, their cost will come down and reach more people. The technology is developing in the culinary field in dozens of countries, with 3D food printers being used to design sweets, pasta and other foods. NASA  tested this way back in 2013 with the idea of expanding on the variety of foods that astronauts can eat in space.

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Chile is making progress with cochayuyo seaweed, one of the typical ingredients of the coastal nation's cuisine,  which is rich amino acids, minerals and iodine. Vasquez, a 25-year-old postgraduate student who is writing his thesis on the subject, takes dehydrated cochayuyo and grinds it to create a flour. This is then mixed with instant mashed potato powder. He adds hot water to the mixture to create a gelatinous and slimy substance that is eventually into the printer.

"It occurred to me that potatoes, rice flour, have a lot of starch. This, combined with the cochayuyo alginate, generates stabilisation within the 3D printer," elaborates Vasquez, while waiting for the printer to finish creating a Pikachu figure of about two centimeters (just under one inch), imbued a taste of mashed potatoes and the sea.

The project has been underway for two years and is still in its infancy, but the idea is to apply ingredients such as edible flowers or edible dyes to the menu to make them more attractive to children.

Also read: The Delhi bakeries of our childhood

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    20.06.2022 | 03:15 PM IST

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