Scientists 3D-print seaweed snacks for kids

3D printed food sample at University of Chile, Santiago. Credit: AFP Photo

Take a pinch of dehydrated cochayuyo seaweed, add a dollop of instant mashed potatoes and a dash of hot water, then throw it into a 3D printer. The result is a recipe for success.

Researchers from the Faculty of Chemical & Pharmaceutical Sciences of the University of Chile have developed 3D printed nutritious foods that they hope will revolutionise the food market, particularly for children. Professor Roberto Lemus, along with several students, has created these nutritious and edible figures using simple staple ingredients, mixed with cutting edge technology.

In order to make them more appealing to children the researchers programmed Pokemon figures, and other animal shapes, into the 3D printer, together with the gelatinous mixture. The food is “printed” out seven minutes later.

“The product has to be highly nutritious for people, but it also has to be tasty.”

Professor Roberto Lemus, University of Chile

While the shape of the food is focussed on 'fun,' the primary concern is ensuring taste and nutritional content.

Cochayuyo seaweed is a very common ingredient in Chilean cuisine and has been an important food resource for the Chilean indigenous people for centuries. In addition to being versatile and cheap, it is rich in amino acids, minerals and iodine.

Food engineering student Alonso Vasquez cuts cochayuyo seaweed to process it before putting it into a 3D printer at Chile's University in Santiago, 2022.

While 3D printers are still very expensive, the scientists behind this project predict that as they grow more popular the price will come down - making way for low cost 3D printing of food in domestic or community spaces.

“They will be as common as the microwave or the refrigerator, and you will be able to personalise your food by making a hamburger based on vegetable flour and cochayuyo in the way you want, adapting the food to your taste without losing the nutritional value," added Lemus.

The project has been underway for two years and is still in its infancy, but the idea is to apply ingredients such as edible flowers or edible dyes to the menu to make them more attractive to children.