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A novel approach to 3-D printing has allowed researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) to 3-D print chocolate-based products at room temperature using cold extrusion. Results of the research study are published in Nature.

The scientists sought to overcome the inflexible demands of hot-melt extrusion, which is widely used to 3-D print chocolates. The method requires the chocolate to be at temperatures between 31oC and 36oC so it can be melted and dispensed. While the method has advantages in simplicity and accessibility, the narrow range of operating temperatures can be highly restrictive.

Conversely, cold extrusion does not require the manipulation of temperature since it depends solely on the rheology of printing “ink” added to chocolate at the operating temperature. To date, the lack of inks with suitable rheological properties has prevented cold extrusion to be used in 3-D printed chocolate applications.

To bridge the gap, researchers from SUTD’s Soft Fluidics Lab developed a method called Chocolate-based Ink 3-D Printing (Ci3DP). The method uses readily available chocolate products, such as syrups and pastes, that are mixed with cocoa powder to alter the rheology of the ink. Chocolate-based inks with high concentrations of cocoa powders exhibited shear-thinning properties with high viscosity; the inks also possessed a toothpaste-like property that did not flow at rest.

To highlight the capabilities of the novel method, 3-D models consisting of chocolate syrups and pastes were demonstrated. The method was extended to the fabrication of a chocolate with different textures by using multiple types of inks. For instance, a piece of chocolate was fabricated with a semi-solid enclosure and liquid filling at the same time, further demonstrating the flexibility of the scientists’ new approach.

“The simplicity and flexibility of Ci3DP offer great potential in fabricating complex chocolate-based products without the need for temperature control,” said lead study author Rahul Karyappa in a press release.

Added principal investigator Michinao Hashimoto, in the press release, “Ci3DP is capable of fabricating customized food in a wide range of materials with tailored textures and optimized nutritional content. This new approach also widens the industry’s capabilities in 3-D food printing, allowing for the cold-extrusion of food products that are temperature-sensitive.”

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