Printing Space Cake with Software-Based Laser Cooking

Space Shuttle astronauts had a wide variety of foods available to them. Food shown here includes a space station meal tray with packaged food and drink; different types of space food including beverages, rehydratable food (shrimp cocktail), intermediate moisture (dried apricots, beef tips and mushrooms), natural form and thermostabilized/aseptic fill (peach yogurt, butterscotch pudding); rehydratable beverage (coffee and cream); rehydratable food (shrimp cocktail); and irradiated steak. Credit: NASA.

Crewed deep space missions will require innovative cooking methods in addition to in-situ food production. Automated laser cooking and three-dimensional (3D) food printing have the potential to be a convenient and space-effective method for creating eclectic and nutritious dishes on long-term spaceflights. This food-making method can utilize in-situ-produced food as raw materials for the bio-ink fed into a 3D printer. The versatility of the ink composition used to print foods will facilitate adjusting nutrients based on real-time data on astronauts’ physical conditions and metabolic requirements. As a relatively nascent application of additive manufacturing, some limitations of 3D food printers are the total number of ingredients, variation in cooking time, and targeted optimal heating. The lack of a precise heating mechanism limits the ability to print complex dishes with multiple components, such as meats and grains, with varying optimal cooking times.

Jonathan D. Blutinger (Columbia University) and colleagues developed a software-based 3D food printer with laser cooking that uses high-energy targeted light (blue light at 445 nanometers) for precise heating. As a precision heating appliance, the blue laser cooking system used a near-infrared laser operating at 980 nm. They successfully tested this upgraded 3D food printer using an iterative design to assemble a selectively cooked seven-ingredient slice of cake. Combining 3D food printing with laser cooking resulted in a high-precision method to construct user-generated 3D models from edible food. Another group led by Sun M. Kim (Korea University) used a novel approach to print filamentous structures native to imitation crab by using potato starch to adjust the composition of the crab meat mixture. A review published by Long-zhen Zhang recognized the potential of extrusion-based 3D food printing as an innovative method to generate food during space travel and commended additional research for addressing limitations from microgravity, the post-processability of food, and engineering transportation. READ MORE: The future of software-controlled cooking, Preparation and characterization of surimi-based imitation crab meat using coaxial extrusion three-dimensional food printing, and Application and challenges of 3D food printing technology in manned spaceflight: a review.