SLU news

Printing food: 3D printing of Faba bean based materials

Published: 17 November 2021
Photo of Fanny Knab

During the last year there has been ongoing work at SLU to create printable food inks from starch, fibre and protein rich fractions extracted from Faba beans. One of the persons that has been highly involved in the project is internship student Fanny Knab from France.

Fanny's own description of her project:
In my project I used three isolated faba bean fractions; protein, starch and fibre to create an edible bio ink.   Different objects are printed layer by layer. 3D printing is a technology that ensures food products that are tailored to the consumers preferences as different formulations, shapes and sizes of the printed objects can be made

The 3D printing as such has been around for about 50 years, but it is only the last 10-15 years or so it has been discussed as an alternative within the food sector. Even if there are currently no or very few 3D printed foods available on the market, multiple companies are planning to launch their products, at least on a smaller scale, within the next few years. Examples include 3D printed plant based steaks and salmon.

3D printing is a technique that can be used to create personalized foods, both in terms of appearance and nutritional composition. For example, it can be used as a tool to create more appealing and appetizing meals for elderly with swallowing difficulties, such as a broccoli puree in the shape of broccoli or a chicken paté in the shape of a chicken drumstick.

Other benefits include the low waste and the possibility to combine materials and create textures otherwise difficult to obtain. Revo Foods, an Austrian company has created a vegan-smoked salmon by combining ingredients such as pea protein, algae extracts, and dietary fibres that are then 3D printed. Problems such as overfishing, destruction of the oceans and toxic heavy metals in seafood are overcome; in addition, landlocked Austria can have its own "salmon production".

Product development played a major part in Fanny’s project. In total, she created 51 different types of bio-ink with either different ratios of ingredients and/or pre-treatments. The bio-inks were evaluated on their printability and general appearance of the printed object. Freeze-drying was deemed the best drying method before further texture analysis. Twelve of the 51 different bio-inks were successful.

When 3D printing many criteria need to be taken into consideration… the texture of the inks and the machine parameters are the most critical criteria. The Bio-ink cannot be too stiff for printing, whilst it also needs to retain its shape after printing.

With it being such a novel technique multiple challenges need to be overcome before 3D printing of foods can be commercialised. Food safety can potentially be an issue, especially for usage by individuals on a smaller scale. Ink formulation can limit the ingredients possible to print and post-processing can sometimes be difficult without significantly affecting the shape of the printed object. In addition to this, the 3D printing process could add additional energy requirements for the production process.

For me, the most challenging thing when printing was to deal with the effect of so many different parameters simultaneously; ratios of ingredients, the different pre-treatments (which fraction to pre-treat, during how much time, at what temperature), the pressure, the size of the nozzle, the pre-flow, the infill pattern, the shape, the post-treatment…

There is always something that can be improved. With so many parameters, it is easy to get confused and difficult to decipher the effect of each individual and combined parameter. Strict results writing and reflection on results were necessary.

In addition, I had troubles with the printer numerous times, which generated a considerable waste of time and material

3D printer at work
3D printer at work
3D printer
3D printing "bean bites"
Printed bean bites
"Bean bites"

As mentioned earlier, multiple companies are currently working on developing 3D printed foods and planning to launch products within the next few years. Nevertheless, the future of 3D printing for food applications is difficult to predict. Ten-twenty years from now small benchtop 3D printers might even be available for personal usage. 

 

I am sure that we will be seeing more of 3D printing in the future. In France the newspapers are already talking about it, I predict commercial 3D printed foods will be available in 5 to 10 years; some companies are already in the product development stages. 3D printing of food is a solution to many problems and the researchers are on the right roll!

If you could describe your project using 3 words what would they be?

Enriching, Useful and Futuristic.

I feel like my work will be useful for our future, for the future of our daily food consumption habits. My 5 months of work is a fraction of all the work needed to commercialize 3D food printing, but it's a little step that I'm proud of.

Doing an internship in a foreign country can be challenging, especially during a pandemic For Fanny the project itself was not affected by the pandemic it was more the limited social activates that was an issue

I felt very lucky to be in Sweden, the country with some of the fewest restrictions. Corona caused no problems during my internship as I was working in the lab almost every day. We had lunch all together every day. I had human contact every day. I was not working in front of a computer. My whole internship was like normal work life.

However, I did have some trouble at the beginning when meeting new people and creating friendships. I lived on my own and all bars and restaurants closed at 8:00 pm, which limits socialisation. All social meetings organized by the nations were also cancelled. I had to put in a lot of effort to find friends. Under normal circumstances, Uppsala is full of students and life!

The international internship is a mandatory part of Fanny’s education as Food Engineer

During my internship, I learned how to be autonomous and more responsible.  Moreover, with the practical lab skill I acquired, I learned that research takes a lot of time and taking a step back and having a reflection about the results is necessary. I also gained skills in English both for writing the report and presenting my project.

In France, Fanny has one more year before finishing her studies; double diploma: Food Science Engineer + Administration and Industries Management Master.

 In the future, I want to work abroad (Germany, Netherland, Switzerland …?). I would like to work sometime in a company (project manager or line manager) or even to create my own company. I will for sure keep in mind the 3D printing of food because it is a new and auspicious technology.

 

Facts:

Fanny Knab is a Food Science Engineering student at AgroSup Dijon. As part of her studies, she has performed a 5-month internship at SLU on food 3D printing. She has been positioned in the Maud Langton lab and supervised by PhD-students Klara Nilsson and Mathias Johansson.