We once stayed with a couple who were taking care of a family member who had suffered a stroke. Their fridge was full of “smooth” foods because this family member had developed dysphagia, a severe difficulty with swallowing. This food amounted to baby food.

But there may be a new option on the horizon. Difficulty chewing and swallowing regular food is a common problem for the elderly, for anyone who has suffered a stroke, or those going through chemotherapy. They are often served pureed foods that are unappetizing, which can lead to situations where patients become malnourished or dread meal time.

Enter 3-D food printing. It’s a game changer for those suffering from the inability to chew or swallow normally. Food is cooked, pureed, and then mixed with a solidifying agent. It is then put through a food “printer” and remade into its original shape. But instead of needing to be thoroughly chewed and swallowed, it will simply melt in the mouth. The claim is that it still tastes like the original food.

German food company Biozoon co-developed the concept of handmade“smoothfood” with the goal being that “the end product matches the original food item, but the texture is soft and gel-like. It dissolves easily in the mouth so that it is safe to eat for people with mastication or swallowing problems,” according to owner Mathias Kueck. Currently the smoothfood concept uses silicon molds to reshape food, but the process is time-consuming for the 1,000 nursing homes in Germany that have adopted it. 

3D food printing by Biozoom

Photo: © Biozoon

That’s where 3-D food printing machines can help. This new approach of printing food in 3-D is currently under development within the three-year Performance Project, funded by the European Commission. The hope is that these machines will help improve food quality and be able to provide personalized food while also cutting down on food preparation time at care facilities.

Kueck also mentioned in a news release that patients eating the 3-D printed food started enjoying eating again, and helped improve the quality of their lives. 3D food printing is also being developed for the home cook, with chicken nuggets, pizza, and cookies being made by a food printer. Is 3-D food printing the next big thing in the food world? Time will tell. Check out the Performance Project website for more information on this technology, and read an interview with the coordinator of the project here. 

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