US engineers have invented software-controlled robotic lasers that cook food with unparalleled precision, retaining more moisture, and creating an entirely new, customized way to cook a tasty meal.
The idea is to have a kind of digital personal chef, ready to cook up whatever is desired and able to tailor the shape, texture, and flavor – all at the push of a button.
Engineers at the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science, US, have worked on using lasers for cooking and 3D printing technology to assemble foods.
Expanding 3D printed food
They have been building a fully autonomous digital personal chef.
Led by mechanical engineering professor Hod Lipson, the “Digital Food” team of his Creative Machines Lab has been developing 3D-printed foods since 2007. Since then, food printing has progressed to multi-ingredient prints and has been explored by researchers and a few commercial companies.
“We noted that, while printers can produce ingredients to a millimeter-precision, there is no heating method with this same degree of resolution,” says Jonathan Blutinger, a Ph.D. in Lipson’s lab who led the project.
“Cooking is essential for nutrition, flavor, and texture development in many foods, and we wondered if we could develop a method with lasers to precisely control these attributes.”
The team explored various cooking modalities by exposing blue light (445 nm) and infrared light (980 nm and 10.6 μm) to chicken, which they used as a model food system.
They printed chicken samples (3 mm thick by ~1in2 area) as a testbed and assessed various parameters, including cooking depth, color development, moisture retention, and flavor differences between laser-cooked and stove-cooked meat. They discovered that laser-cooked meat shrinks 50% less, retains double the moisture content, and shows similar flavor development to conventionally cooked meat.
“In fact, our two blind taste-testers preferred laser-cooked meat to the conventionally cooked samples, which shows promise for this burgeoning technology,” Blutinger said.
While Lipson and Blutinger are excited about the possibilities of this new technology, whose hardware and software components are fairly low-tech, they note that there is not yet a sustainable ecosystem to support it.
Lipson states that “what we still don’t have is what we call ‘Food CAD,’ sort of the Photoshop of food. We need a high-level software that enables people who are not programmers or software developers to design the foods they want. And, then we need a place where people can share digital recipes like we share music.”
“Food is something that we all interact with and personalize on a daily basis, so it seems only natural to infuse software into our cooking to make meal creation more customizable,” Blutinger says.
Edited by Gaynor Selby
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