Food scientist uses 3D printing to unveil first in series of ‘functional foods’ – Zoo House News

Food scientist uses 3D printing to unveil first in series of ‘functional foods’ – Zoo House News

  • Science
  • February 15, 2023
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A Rutgers scientist has developed a low-fat chocolate formulation that can be 3D printed into pretty much any shape imaginable, including a heart.

The work heralds what the researcher hopes to be a new line of “functional foods” – edibles specifically designed with health benefits. The aim is to develop healthier chocolate varieties that are easily accessible to consumers.

In the scientific journal Food Hydrocolloids, a Rutgers-led team of scientists reported the successful manufacture and printing of a low-fat chocolate mix that replaced fatty cocoa butter with a lower-fat water-in-oil emulsion.

“Everyone loves to eat chocolate, but we’re also concerned about our health,” said Qingrong Huang, a professor in the Department of Food Science at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. “To counteract this, we have developed a chocolate that is not only low in fat, but can also be printed with a 3D printer. It’s our first ‘functional’ chocolate.”

Huang, an author of the study, said he is already working on manipulating the sugar content in the new chocolate formulation for low-sugar and no-sugar varieties.

Researchers create emulsions by breaking down two immiscible liquids into tiny droplets. In emulsions, the two liquids usually separate quickly—like oil and vinegar do—unless held together by a third, stabilizing ingredient known as an emulsifier. (An egg is the emulsifier in a vinaigrette.)

Chocolate candies are generally made with cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and powdered sugar, and combined with one of many different emulsifiers.

For the study, the scientific team experimented with different ratios of ingredients for a standard chocolate recipe to find the best balance of liquid and solid for 3D printing. To lower the fat content in the mix, the researchers made a water-in-cocoa butter emulsion held together by gum arabic, an extract from the acacia tree commonly used in the food industry, to replace the cocoa butter. The researchers mixed the emulsion with golden syrup to enhance the flavor and added this combination to the other ingredients.

As delicious as it is to eat, Huang said, chocolate is a material rich in aspects for food scientists to explore.

Using advanced techniques to study the molecular structure and physical properties of chocolate, researchers studied the physical properties of the printed chocolate. They were looking for the right level of viscosity to print, looking for the optimal texture and smoothness “for good mouthfeel,” Huang said. They experimented with many different water-to-oil ratios and varied the percentages of each key ingredient before settling on a blend.

3D printing uses a printer to create a physical object from a digital model by depositing layers of material in rapid succession. The 3D printer and the molds it produces can be programmed via an app on a cellphone, Huang said.

Ultimately, Huang said he plans to develop functional foods that contain healthy additives — substances he’s studied for more than two decades, such as extracts from orange peel, tea, peppers, onions, rosemary, turmeric, blueberries and ginger — to consumers can print and eat.

“3D food printing technology enables the development of customized edible products with customized taste, shape and texture and optimal nutrition based on consumer needs,” said Huang.

Other researchers on the study were Siqi You and Xuanxuan Lu from the Department of Food Science and Engineering at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China.

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