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3D printers replace cooks

Researchers at RISE are working to develop tasty and appealing food for an aging population. One possible solution is 3D printing technology. In future, perhaps the cooks at our residential homes for the elderly will be 3D printers.

Eight percent of the adult population suffer from dysphagia; they find it difficult to chew and swallow. This group includes people such as cancer patients or those who have suffered a stroke, although the problem is primarily one of old age. Today, congealed purée is offered to elderly dysphagia sufferers.

“Puréed food does not taste like normal food, nor does it look like the food we are used to,” says Evelina Höglund, a researcher at RISE Agrifood and Bioscience.

Makes food more appealing

RISE is therefore engaged in developing food for the elderly that is both tastier and more appealing. One part of this project is the manufacture of food using 3D printers.

“When we manufacture 3D food, we have the opportunity to develop new recipes that preserve the taste. We can also make new, more complex forms of food, for example roulade with stuffing, which are not possible using the current method of preparing such food,” explains Evelina Höglund.

Manufacturing tasty and attractive food is important given the prevalence of malnourishment among the elderly.  

“It becomes easier to place food in a positive context when it looks appealing and resembles normal food. The elderly are more than happy to discuss food and culinary memories; however, it is difficult if they can’t recognise what they’re eating,” says Eva Höglund.

Individualised dishes and unique products are advantages of 3D technology.

“Mass production is normally cheaper but producing individual dishes using a 3D printer only requires the uploading of different data files. It is not necessary to retool the entire production line in the same way as with normal manufacture. This makes 3D printing ideal for personalising products,” says Evelina and continues:

“The idea is that, in future, homes for the elderly will be able to use 3D printers to provide residents with customised meals. They may have varying nutritional requirements and appetites or suffer from different allergies. With data available for each individual resident, the home will be able to provide customised meals. The same type of meal can be adjusted in size, appearance and nutrients.

Possible today

It is already possible to produce food using 3D printers; however, they are not yet used commercially.

“Available food printers are often simple and not approved for handling foodstuffs. Most of what is printed is experimental or for personal amusement. 3D technology needs to be developed specifically for food production,” says Evelina Höglund.

“Many may feel that this all sounds somewhat futuristic and may be sceptical about 3D-printed food. However, really it is not so strange; it is not simply a matter of filling a machine with some strange substance that is then converted into food. We use normal ingredients and the machine makes three-dimensional forms from them. It works like an automated piping bag,” explains Evelina Höglund.

Future meals – Customized, 3D printed foods for elderly and others with swallowing disorders

Within the scope of this project, researchers will manufacture 3D-printed food and develop 3D-printer technology for food production. Researchers will also work to identify new ingredients and products, improve taste and consistency and develop a business model for the concept. Future stages of the project will include testing 3D food with consumers and conducting sensory panel tests. In approximately one year, residential homes in two Swedish municipalities will be offered the opportunity to test the food.

The project is the work of researchers from RISE together with food manufacturers Findus and Solina, Kristianstad University, 3D-printer developers at Cellink, Addema and Lund University, heads of healthcare food procurement for Helsingborg Municipality, Halmstad Municipality and Fazer Food Services, and Changemaker.

RISE also collaborates with a group of Japanese researchers and food companies in the project GoIndependent, on the theme of improved food for the elderly, that includes 3D-printed food for elderly people with swallowing difficulties.

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Evelina Höglund

Forskare Livsmedel Produktdesign

+46 10 516 66 19

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