Can 3D printing science enable good nutrition choices?


Since 2021, Tate & Lyle has been an active member in the IMAGINE Consortium, a European collective of academic institutions and commercial partners working to make personalised nutrition – healthier, tailored food and drinks – accessible to the wider public. The group brings together multidisciplinary expertise in consumer behaviour, nutrition and health, food formulation, ingredient science, and digital on-demand food manufacturing (3D food printing). 

3D printed chocolate ampersand

“Recent studies have highlighted the scientific base for a personalised nutrition approach, showing how personalisation could lead to more tailored and effective health outcomes and behavioral changes. This is an emerging field, as more research is needed to understand its full application and scalability but is a rapidly growing industry that has gathered interest from academia, consumers, industry and public health organisations, due to its promising potential to address individual needs,” says Davide Risso, Head of Nutrition Research at Tate & Lyle.

What is 3D printing?

“3D printing is a method of creating a three-dimensional object, layer-by-layer using a computer-created design. It is a process whereby layers of material are built up to create a 3D object and, in our case, a food item. Although there are a range of different technologies available for 3D food printing, Project IMAGINE is currently focusing on extrusion technology,” explains Will Ballantyne, Category Technical Manager, Europe at Tate & Lyle, who has been a part of the project since it began. Extrusion printing typically involves printing onto a base consisting of a platform with a computer-controlled extrusion head. The extrusion head pushes food materials through a nozzle, typically by way of compressed air or even mechanically. The nozzles vary in size and the type of food product being extruded. As the food material is extruded or 'printed', the extrusion head moves along the platform printing the desired food item. Some printed food requires additional preparation, such as baking, before consumption.

How is Tate & Lyle supporting the IMAGINE Project?

“In conjunction with Wageningen University and Research (WUR), Tate & Lyle scientists have been running experiments to understand how our fibres, sweeteners and texturants function in 3D printing. These experiments have been conducted together at WUR and in our application laboratory in Lübeck, Germany, using our 3D printer,” continues Will.

As one of the partners of this project, we have been offering our full range of ingredient solutions including CLARIA® Clean Label Starches, STA-LITE® Polydextrose, PROMITOR® Soluble Fibres, MALTOSWEET® Maltodextrins, ARTESA® Chickpea Flour and Protein and our stabilisation solutions.

How is the project progressing?

Over the past two years, the project has moved forward in the areas of consumer knowledge, ingredient knowledge development, and mathematical modelling for the decision support tool (also known as ‘the algorithm’), which will determine how an individual’s needs can be met in a tailored food product. This research, together with the 3D printer, means the consortium is preparing test cases to see how scientists can start to develop individual products in different environments.

“The testing phase will require extensive nutritional and other data inputs from the participants to understand their particular dietary needs and preferences. The algorithm, built from expert user inputs and science-based nutritional data sources, together with 3D printer, will deliver a unique personalised food item to each individual. This is an example of our support for science that creates solutions that benefit society, and we are excited to work alongside and share progress with our consortium partners in the coming months and years!” shares Will.

Since the start of this project, it has been a joy to be involved and it remains a privilege to have been asked to take a leading role in this inspiring and burgeoning area of food science. As we see how our expertise, scientific inputs and solutions have started to shape new insights and support the project deliverables, it remains as exciting a project as ever.

Will Ballantyne, Category Technical Manager, Europe