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A UM logo made from Nutella

A UM logo made from Nutella

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

MAASTRICHT. Pancakes, pasta, and performances with chocolate and sugar. ‘Printing’ food is not exactly common. Nevertheless, the UM is thinking of setting up an expertise centre. SBE students have already carried out a study on the matter.

Unlike what most people may think, the chances that we have already eaten printed food are considerable, at least if you like pancakes. The pre-packed pancakes from the Albert Heijn are actually made (read: printed) by a company in Nijmegen. They are built layer by layer. Production is five million pieces a day. “If you look closely you will see that each pancake is different,” says Frits Hoff from the Maastricht Fablab, which specialises in digital fabrication. “That is done purposely to create the impression that grandmother made them.”

Hoff was one of the twenty experts, members of staff and students who had gathered in the building of the Service Science Factory (Tongersestraat) last Tuesday afternoon, to brainstorm with the help of presentations on the application of food printing and about a potential UM expertise centre. There were many business administration experts, but also a health care professor, representatives from the hotel management school and the chef from the fancy restaurant Tout à Fait in the Bernardusstraat. 


Aside from the pancake production in Nijmegen, 3D food printing is still largely in an experimental phase. There are various machines on the market, among others from Philips. The simplest ones, no larger than an espresso machine, work with a spout that produces chocolate for example. This is demonstrated on site on Tuesday afternoon. The idea is to print the UM logo using chocolate paste onto a slice of white bread, but the attempt fails. It appears that the distance of the spout was not set properly. A little later, the logo with the two triangles successfully appears layer by layer. Not blue but brown this time.

What is the actual benefit of printing food? According to some, it could solve the world food problem, says Jos Lemmink, professor of Marketing. For example by grinding distasteful animals such as insects and shaping them into something more appetizing to sell or serve. Restaurants could use the devices to present their food attractively. For Bart Ausems, chef at Tout à Fait, it is all “completely new”. He can imagine all kinds of things, he says. “The easiest is to make a chocolate that is appealing to the eye. But I think it would be fun to surprise guests, for example, to serve fish as meat or the other way around.”

Marketing students from the School of Business and Economics approached chefs in the region to gauge their interest. The underlying question: Is a regional expertise centre (focusing on haute cuisine) viable? Yes, the students concluded, although they also discovered a few challenges. The equipment is expensive to buy and the consumer doesn’t appear to be ready for it yet. Half of them are enthusiastic and the others can’t bear thinking about it, says Jan-Jaap Semeijn, professor of Supply Chain Management and Logistics. 


Later on, Luc de Witte, professor of Health Care Technology, joins the group. Why? Because printing food seems suitable for the care of older people. “Undernourishment is a gigantic problem in care homes for the elderly. It is not very well known, but a national study recently showed that a quarter of the inhabitants in such homes eat too little. The consequences are far-reaching, such as infections, but there is also a direct link to mortality. That is partly due to the shapeless and tasteless food. Those who have trouble swallowing, are given a brown sludge that has been put through a blender. With a food printer, you can prepare so-called smooth food that looks pretty and still is easy to digest. You could also add medication or nutritional supplements such as minerals and vitamins.”

Marketing lecturer Dominik Mahr, who supervised the students’ research, wonders if consumers will change their minds. “It is not exactly a romantic idea that your food comes from an appliance instead of a cow.” The comments are immediately brushes off the table. Such resistance has disappeared in modern consumers, some say. Besides, machines are an integral part of modern life.



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