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Priya Gohil

Print Your Cake and Eat It, Too

Engineers have 3D printed a cheesecake

Mar 24, 2023 8:30:14 AM


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Now I like a good slice of Victoria sponge as much as the next person, so I was excited when one story caught my eye this week: a 3D-printed cheesecake created by engineers using seven layers of paste and powder. The resulting creation carries a layered flavour intended to hit you “in different waves.” The cheesecake is the culmination of many efforts by mechanical engineers working in the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University in New York. The aim of their project was to demonstrate that additive manufacturing technology has the potential to revolutionize the kitchen by turning cartridges of food paste and powder into edible (and, hopefully, palatable-looking) meals.


Unsurprisingly, the road to cake making was initially bumpy. Detailed in a recent paper published in Nature.com’s nature partner journal the Science of Food, researchers described how their first efforts looked promising enough. However, as layer upon layer squirted out, the cheesecake was less cheesecake and more deconstructed sludgy heap. Building on these early setbacks, they eventually honed the printer to a point where puddings were being squeezed out in a recognizable state. The printer was also equipped with a blue laser to cook layers on the go, if required. Now, next level automation has led to a cheesecake being printed using seven ingredients: graham cracker, peanut butter, Nutella, banana puree, strawberry jam, cherry drizzle, and frosting. All of this is accomplished in 30 minutes.


A seven-ingredient 3D-printed slice of cake
(Source: Creative Machines Lab, Columbia University)


The result may not ooze the finesse and charm of an afternoon tea patisserie, but it is an impressive feat nonetheless. The engineers say that while the cheesecake is the best thing they can accomplish at this point, their printer can print other foodstuffs like chicken, beef, vegetables, and cheese—all items that can be readily transformed into a paste, liquid, or powder.


A roast chicken paste dinner is a bit of a stretch to imagine, but it has implications for other avenues of printed food research and development. The paper’s abstract reads, “with the continual evolution of digital technologies, laser cooking and 3D food printing may present nutritious, convenient, and cost-effective cooking opportunities.”


There is already a lot of traction in this area. For example, in the US, the Department of Defence has been pursuing 3D-printed meals ready-to-eat (MREs) that could be paired with wearable sensors to meet future soldiers’ nutritional needs for that day. NASA has also been experimenting with 3D-printed food for astronauts on long missions.


Will cake bake sales be transformed in the future? Instead of peering into ovens and worrying about soggy bottoms, will we just load up paste cartridges and hit the “go” button? Time will tell. I (for one) love the smell of freshly baked goodies. I won’t be dispensing with my whisk and muffin tin anytime soon.


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