Designing new alternatives to meat with 3D printing and cocoa butter

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No longer just a dream for vegetarians and vegans, fake meat is increasingly available in grocery stores and restaurants. And more options are almost certainly on the way. In a study reported in ACS Food Science and Technology, a team has developed a new combination of plant-based ingredients suitable for 3D printing alternatives to meat. Their most successful recipes called for a strange addition: cocoa butter, derived from cocoa beans famous for chocolate.

From animal welfare to environmental sustainability, there are many reasons why people choose to avoid eating animal-derived meat. Many current meat alternatives rely on plant-based proteins, most often soy and wheat, which can easily mimic the texture and nutritional value of the real thing. While 3D printing has already been tested for alternatives to meat, none of the current formulations include proteins from these particular plants. So, Songbai Liu and Shanshan Wang wanted to find an approach to make a meat-based “paste” with soybean and wheat proteins that could be produced efficiently with a 3D printer.

The researchers tested soy and wheat proteins in formulations containing several other ingredients using a 3D printer. They evaluated their concoctions based on how accurately the paste could be deposited by the printer and how well its shape held. They also looked at its texture and microstructure. The experiments revealed the importance of several additional ingredients, including the Tween-80 emulsifier and sodium alginate in controlling texture. Heat-sensitive cocoa butter has been found to be a particularly important ingredient, making the dough more fluid at hot temperatures for printing, but then hardening at room temperature, allowing the dough to retain its printed shape. One downside, however, is that people who can’t eat wheat or soy gluten due to allergies or celiac disease might not be able to take advantage of the newer alternatives. To solve this problem, the researchers attempted to replace soy protein with pea protein, but the resulting dough was too soft to print. Despite this, these experiments identified a new strategy for formulating meat substitutes using this versatile technology, according to the researchers.

– This press release was provided by American Chemical Society


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