3D printing of plant-based meat substitute made possible by 'thermosensitive' cocoa butter
Not to be outdone by the Israelis from Redefine Meat, whose promo video you can see below, the Chinese food scientists Shanshan Wang and Songbai Liu have posted a paper detailing the 3D-printing characteristics of another meat substitute they tried to whip into shape. That's what 3D printers are for, as you can see from the heart-shaped "meat" image in their publication, but apparently they ran into trouble with a pea protein that refused to budge.
While Redefine Meat 3D print their steaks by using a mixture of chickpeas, both soy and pea protein, beetroot, yeasts and coconut fat, the Chinese researchers say that pea protein didn't pass muster but when they substituted with soy and "thermosensitive cocoa butter," the vegetable patties just started flowing from the 3D printer.
In this study, formulation of soy protein- and gluten-based gel materials for 3D printing in a model study has been successfully developed employing thermosensitive cocoa butter to investigate its feasibility for preparing meat analogues. The influence of protein, starch, and sodium alginate on extrusion formability and printing accuracy was investigated. The extrusion formability of doughs of soy protein isolate was notably better than that of pea protein. Addition of appropriate amounts of cocoa butter, Tween-80, and sodium alginate was essential to achieve superior 3D printing performance. Thermosensitive cocoa butter provided fluidity to the doughs during 3D printing above room temperature and retained the shape upon solidification at room temperature. SEM-EDS, FT-IR, and solid-state NMR investigations revealed that the hydrogen bonding interaction of the soy protein and gluten network generated the fundamental continuous fibrous architecture of the gels. The developed strategy in this study would be valuable for formulating materials for 3D printing.
The food scientists mention in the "3D Printing of Soy Protein- and Gluten-Based Gels Facilitated by Thermosensitive Cocoa Butter in a Model Study" research paper that the resulting dough has high nutritional value and the protein amount of chicken meat, while they added shiitake powder to make it taste like the real thing. It seems like there is no escaping the plant-based meat substitute phenomenon, so we might as well demand the end product be printed fast into various familiar shapes to ease the diet transition.