Swedish municipalities plan to start 3D-printed food at care homes for the elderly, stimulating residents’ appetites by making puréed food look like the real thing.
“When you find it hard to chew and swallow, the food that exists today doesn’t look very appetising,” explained Richard Asplund, head of the catering department at Halmstad municipality on the west coast.
“So the idea is to make something more aesthetic to look at, to make it look good to eat by recreating the original form of the food.”
Together with its project partners, the municipality hopes to be able to take purified broccoli and chicken, which is today served in dull circular or square slabs thickened with egg and starch, and then reconstitute it into florets and drumsticks.
“It will look like a chicken leg, but you could compare the consistency to panna cotta,” Asplund said.
Evelina Höglund, the researcher coordinating the project at the state innovation body Rise, said that homes faced a daily battle to get residents with dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, to eat sufficiently.
“It’s a big problem that people who get consistency adapted food get malnourished because they eat too little,” she said.
Around eight per cent of adults in Sweden have difficulties chewing or swallowing.
The project is currently in the pre-study phase, with the first trial meals expected to be served up at care homes in Halmstad and Helsingborg by the end of this year.
As well as the municipalities, Rise is working with the food providers Findus and Solina, the 3D printing companies Cellink and Addema, and researchers at Lund University and the University of Kristianstad.
The first challenge, Höglund explained, was to adapt printers designed for the medical technology industry so that they are able to print hygienically and in sufficient quantities.
Asplund, a former head chef at the luxury Falkenbergs Strandbad hotel, conceded that 3D-printed chicken did not sound particularly delicious.
“No, it isn’t. But it’s better than what they have today.”