Sustainable, edible ‘squid rings’ 3D
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Sustainable, edible ‘squid rings’ 3D

Aug 03, 2023

Image credit: Brent Hofacker Shutterstock

By E&T editorial staff

Published Monday, August 14, 2023

A 3D-printed ‘ink’, made from microalgae and mung bean protein, has been used to create a concept ‘calamari ring’ suitable for vegetarians.

Due to unsustainable fishing and aquaculture practices, there is a rising demand for mock seafood options that are better for the environment.

Some firms, such as Singapore’s Shiok Meats, want to launch shrimp meat based on cells grown in a lab.

But a team from the National University of Singapore is taking a different approach by creating an entirely plant-based alternative.

“I think it’s imminent that the seafood supply could be very limited in the future,” said graduate student Poornima Vijayan, presenting the work at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. “We need to be prepared from an alternative protein point of view, especially here in Singapore, where over 90 per cent of the fish is imported.”

It has proved difficult to mimic the flavour of seafood from plants and achieve the same nutritional content and textures.

A 3D-printed calamari ring prepared in the lab

Image credit: Poornima Vijayan

“Plant-based seafood mimics are out there, but the ingredients don’t usually include protein. We wanted to make protein-based products that are nutritionally equivalent to or better than real seafood and address food sustainability,” said Dejian Huang, principal investigator of the research.

“We printed salmon filets with protein from red lentils because of the protein’s colour, and we’ve printed shrimp. Now, we wanted to print something else interesting with the potential for commercialisation — calamari rings.”

The team used legume protein to develop better seafood mimics and replicated the flakiness and mouth-feel of real seafood by printing a protein-based ink with a food-grade 3D printer. Depositing the edible ink layer by layer created different textures, some fatty and smooth, and others fibrous and chewy.

The team tested two sustainable, high-protein plant sources: microalgae and mung beans.

Some microalgae already have a fishy taste, which Vijayan says made them a good candidate to use in the squid-ring analogue. Mung bean protein is an underutilised waste product from manufacturing starch noodles, also called cellophane or glass noodles, a popular ingredient in Asian dishes.

The researchers combined the proteins with plant-based oils containing omega-3 fatty acids. The nutritional profile of the resulting high-protein vegan paste was similar to that of calamari rings from squid.

The paste was subjected to temperature changes, allowing it to be easily squeezed out of a 3D printer’s nozzles and layered into rings. Finally, the team assessed the finished rings’ taste, smell and appearance.

In an initial cooking test, some of the samples were air-fried and prepared for a snack which the researchers said had an “acceptable taste and promising texture properties”.

“The goal is to get the same texture and elastic properties as the calamari rings that are commercially available,” Vijayan said. “I’m still seeing how the composition impacts the product’s elasticity and the final sensory properties.”

In the near future, the team plans to develop prototypes and assess how easily they can be scaled up for mass market food manufacturing. Huang said that in the next few years these calamari-like products could be available in fine dining restaurants or speciality outlets.

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