Researchers develop new okara 3D printing method; Novameat 3D prints blue algae-based steak

Insiders and analysts predict the 3D printing trends to watch in our latest series of articles focused on the future of 3D printing.

Researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have developed a new method of 3D printing with okara, a byproduct of soybeans created during the production of soy milk and bean curd. The approach is based on the direct ink writing process and is novel in that it requires no thickening agents whatsoever.

Elsewhere, Barcelona-based food tech startup Novameat has developed a new blue 3D printed steak. According to the firm, the vibrant product is the first meat alternative to combine all five kingdoms of classification, with a novel hybrid recipe containing animal cells, plant-based derivatives, fungi, algae, and spirulina.

“We chose the color with the purpose to create a futuristic-looking prototype,” said Guiseppe Scionti, CEO of Novameat. “We wanted to show that there are no limits. With our technology, we are able to create whole cuts and hybrid alternative meat products with a variety of ingredients.” 

Novameat's new blue 3D printed steak. Photo via Novameat.
Novameat’s new blue 3D printed steak. Photo via Novameat.

Turning okara into a 3D printing material

Okara is rich in both dietary fiber and protein, but it’s still often discarded in food manufacturing due to a lack of taste. In a bid to upcycle what would otherwise be a waste material, the SUTD team decided to figure out a way to 3D print it into edible snacks.

In 3D printing, food inks like the okara powder used in the study tend to require additives to modify their rheological properties, thickening them and improving printability. However, the use of additives commonly causes unintended changes to the texture and flavor of foods.

To address this issue, the SUTD researchers studied and determined the optimal okara particle size and concentration to be able to 3D print it without any additives. The results of the study showed that particle size was the key factor in determining the rheological properties and printability of okara ink. Ultimately, the final formulation for the ink came out as 33% (w/w) okara powder and a particle size of less than 100μm.

Michinao Hashimoto, the principal investigator of the study, said, “Our demonstration highlights the upcycling of otherwise wasted foods to achieve customized textural properties via 3D printing. We believe our current demonstrations pave the way to realize the full potential of 3D printing technology toward improved food design and sustainability.”

Further details of the study can be found in the paper titled 3D Printing of Okara Ink: The Effect of Particle Size on the Printability.

Edible snacks 3D printed using okara. Photo via SUTD.
Edible snacks 3D printed using okara. Photo via SUTD.

Novameat’s blue 3D printed steak

Established in 2018, Novameat’s mission is to provide realistic, 3D printed alternative meat products that accurately mimic the taste and feel of the real thing. Since its inception, the company has improved its bioengineering and 3D printing capabilities significantly, and now offers an assortment of edible plant-based products. This includes the 3D printed “Steak 2.0” and “Pork 2.0”, which are set to enter the mass market this year.

Novameat’s latest innovation utilizes spirulina, a blueish algae known for its high protein content. Although it’s usually added to smoothies for its nutritional and antioxidant characteristics, Novameat opted for the ingredient simply to formulate a novel blue hue for its steak, all in a bid to push the limits of food 3D printing. The company currently has no plans to commercialize the product.

A meat alternative steak 3D printed by Novameat. Photo via Novameat.
A meat alternative steak 3D printed by Novameat. Photo via Novameat.

Recently, the food 3D printing sector has been rife with appetizing (and some not so appetizing) innovations. MeaTech, an Israeli food technology firm, announced the latest milestone in its quest to develop sustainable, cultured meat products using 3D bioprinting technology. Using its own in-house process, the company successfully 3D bioprinted a 3.67 oz (104 gram) cultivated steak at its lab in Ness Ziona, Israel. 

Elsewhere, Redefine Meat, a food 3D printing firm developing animal-free meat, recently announced the commercial availability of its New-Meat range of plant-based 3D printed meat products at high-end restaurants throughout Europe. Having launched its New-Meat range to selected restaurants in Israel earlier this year, this latest milestone by the company reportedly marks the first time high-end restaurants will offer plant-based whole cuts as part of their menus.

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Featured image shows edible snacks 3D printed using okara. Photo via SUTD.