Science Interviews


Tue, 23rd Sep 2014

The 3D-printed fruit factory

Vaiva Kalnikaita and Gabriel Villar, Dovetailed

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Can you 3D print me a new kidney?

Hexagonal honeyberries, strawberry and cream flavoured berries and even pina colada fruit. This isn't a juicy sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but some of the creations that Cambridge based company Dovetailed have been making with their 3D printer. Georgia Mills went to speak to the founder, Vaiva Kalnikaita and chief inventor, Gabriel Villar and see the fruits of their labour....

Vaiva - The way it works it prints individual little liquids and encapsulates it in a thin gel membrane and it can control every single droplet for texture, for flavour, for colour, and you can build really intricate and interesting structures with it.

Georgia - Great. So, what sort of things have you been using this for?

Vaiva - So, we’ve been printing very successfully, raspberries, but more interestingly, we’ve been inventing new fruit that don’t exist in nature yet. So, we’ve been printing honey berries, a popular dessert called strawberries and cream. Instead of having strawberries and cream separately, we printed it in one shaped berry that has a strip of cream running across.

Georgia - Is one of you secretly Willy Wonka?

Gabriel - Yeah, pretty much. We wanted to watch it again because if I remembered this quote from Willy Wonka saying that he’s showing off his factory and he says the blueberries taste like blueberries and the snozzberries taste like snozzberry. And this is the first time that you can actually make a snozzberry.

Georgia - Have you made a snozzberry?

Gabriel - We’ve made some weird ones. I don’t think we’ve made a snozzberry, yet. We’ve made some rum and coconut berries, and all sorts of other interesting things.

Georgia - They sound delicious. So, can we get making one?

Gabriel - Yeah. We’ve put some fruit juice into this machine and now we’re going to select what shape to turn into. We’ve got some simple preprogrammed shapes. I’m going to choose the little raspberry shape here.

Georgia - This sort of looks a little bit like an ink-jet printer but it’s over this small cup of water and it’s dropping these little drops of red into it which seem to be sinking and forming a shape very much like a raspberry starting to appear. How long does each fruit take?

Gabriel - It depends on the size. These little raspberries take something like five to ten minutes. We’re being quite careful and slow here, so the fastest we’ve been able to print these fruits is about a minute.

Georgia - So, if you think to yourself, I know a flavour that’s going to be really great. Banana and rhubarb maybe and you say to yourself I want to try that, so you can just put the juice in one end, build this fruit with both flavours and then eat it. Is that all there is to it?

Gabriel - Yeah. Pretty much. There’s a little bit of magic that goes into it, of course. What’s great is you can use pretty much anything you like, these organic fruit juices or things that aren’t juice at all like honey, cream, and yogurt, and so forth.

Georgia - And does it need to be in water?

Gabriel - This cup of water that the droplets fall into is a temporary printing medium. So, the printing has to take place in there for this gel membrane to form around each droplet but at the end of the printing process, we fish the berry out of the solution and it stands up by itself.

Georgia - Okay. So, we’re just fishing out the finished product. It looks like a sort of very gooey, half melted raspberry at the moment.

Gabriel - What’s nice is that you can tune the consistency of these things. So, you can make the resulting object quite flimsy and almost like a jelly so as soon as you pop it in your mouth it kind of dissolves or you can make the droplets fairly strong so that they have a more crunchy texture.

Georgia - Again, I’m going to try my first ever 3D printed raspberry. Hmmm… that reminds me a bit of school jelly actually.

Gabriel - In this case we’re using some artificial flavourings so I think that’s why for a lot of people, it’s reminiscent of things like gummy bears and jellies because they use the same flavourings.

Vaiva - We’ve been looking to work with chefs around Cambridge to help us develop a bit more interesting flavours but they can be incredibly flavoursome. We can really pack it with interesting flavours.

Georgia - I was going to ask about applications for this.

Vaiva - We were thinking potentially children because it makes it really appealing and looks really kind of nice. And we noticed that children really like to try them. We’re also thinking potentially older people. Kind of having problems with drink. Athletes potentially because we can really make it super nutritious and it’s very convenient. We’re hoping that students potentially will like it because they could have a healthy lifestyle with the convenience of not having to go to supermarket everytwo days and buy fresh fruit.

Georgia - This reminds me of the chapter in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where there’s this sweet, I think it might be chewing gum where they taste it, it tastes like a three-course meal. Can you get berries to taste of things they have layers in.

Gabriel - You’re not limited to using sweet things so you can use a layer of fruit juice and then a layer of potato puree or soup or whatever you like. So, that’s where the chefs really come into it because there’s all this freedom.

Georgia - Does this go beyond the kitchen ever?

Vaiva - Yes. We’re looking to apply it in also medicine and maybe even cosmetics. We’ve been looking to potentially personalize cosmetics and make it more interesting in terms of how it’s delivered and how people actually mixing it and how are people applying it. In medicine, it has application for printing tissue. So, yeah. It has wide application beyond kitchen.



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