Mar 13, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at University College Cork in Ireland have conducted a series of experiments to understand what happens to cheese when it is 3D printed. They found that the 3D printed cheese turned out softer, darker, and less sticky than untreated cheese.

Researchers at University College Cork have been testing how 3D printing affects cheese

At the start of the month, California startup BeeHex raised $1 million to launch a pizza-printing 3D printer called the Chef 3D. Although seen by some as a novelty, the unusual food 3D printer has at least got people wondering about how the technology will work: how will the dough be 3D printed? How will the tomato be 3D printed? And last but not least, how exactly will the cheese be 3D printed?

While it would be an exaggeration to say that researchers the world over have been abandoning their projects to examine the mechanics of 3D printing pizza, a group of researchers at Ireland’s University College Cork has actually been studying how 3D printing affects the “structure and textural properties” of cheese. (Coincidentally, of course.) Take note Beehex, because the results are in.

The Cork researchers, whose findings have been published in the Journal of Food Engineering, used a modified off-the-shelf 3D printer fitted with a “syringe-based food printing mechanism” to 3D print a commercially available processed cheese—likely the kind of stuff used on a supermarket-standard pizza. The composition of the cheese was 25% fat, 3% carbohydrate, 18% protein, and 3% salt.

The researchers' modified cheese 3D printer

After melting the cheese at 75 °C for 12 minutes, the researchers tried printing it at both low and high extrusion rates, before carrying out “texture profile analysis, rheology, [colorimetry,] and confocal laser scanning microscopy” to see what had happened to the yellow stuff during the process. Incredibly, and to their absolute discredit, the researchers did not eat the 3D printed cheese.

So what exactly happened to the 3D printed cheese? Was it safe to eat? According to the researchers, the 3D printed cheese was “significantly (P < 0.05) less hard, by up to 49%,” than untreated cheese. It was also more meltable (14% to 21%), and had a slightly darker color than the untreated cheese. (The faster extrusion rate even gave the cheese a slightly bluish hue.)

The Cork scientists also noted that the low-speed 3D printed cheese ended up with large, irregularly shaped fat globules, while the cheese printed at a higher speed had smaller, irregularly shaped fat globules.

The structure of cheese: a) fresh, b) melted, c) low-speed 3D printed, d) high-speed 3D printed (red: fat, green: protein)

All in all, the researchers did not discover anything alarming when 3D printing with cheese—unless you happen to hate soft cheese, that is. So yes, 3D printed cheese is safe to eat (if you consider processed cheese “safe” in any form), and the impact of 3D printing upon the structure and textural properties of cheese is not hugely significant.

Will this study encourage more 3D printer users to try printing with cheese? We hope so, though makers should remember that most 3D printers are not food safe.

Brie-dimensional printing? Yes, please.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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