My concept of chocolate 3D printing has changed after a discussion of the technology with La MIAM Factory.
My earlier experience with chocolate 3D printing has been that it was a relatively limited proposition. You see, chocolate, while often quite tasty, is a rather terrible construction material.
It’s soft, even when “hard”. It crumbles. It cracks. It doesn’t resist impacts very well. It has terrible temperature resistance. It has extremely poor outdoor structural performance. All that makes sense: you have to eat it, after all, and you don’t want a piece of steel-like chocos straining your teeth.
But building structures from this material is very challenging. The traditional approach is to cast the liquid chocolate in a mold and let it cool. But we’re talking 3D printing here, where the material must be quickly heated and then quickly cooled down to achieve solid form. That’s because in an extrusion scenario, the next layer will be built on the previous layer, and thus it had better be solid.
There’s something else that’s problematic about chocolate: because you have to eat it, it should be tasty. In chocolate, this is accomplished by precisely controlling the temperature during manufacture. This is called “tempering the chocolate”. If it’s done wrong, the chocolate doesn’t taste right. Temperature is another big constraint to be considered when 3D printing chocolate, as you might get the structure right, but the taste very wrong.
As a result, all of the chocolate 3D printers I’ve seen have been able to 3D print only very short objects. By softening the chocolate enough to extrude, but not mess up the taste, this results in a rather slumpy print that can’t get very tall.
Imagine my surprise when told there was a chocolate 3D printer that could indeed 3D print tall objects. I had a discussion with Gaëtan Richard of Belgium-based La MIAM Factory, who explained that his company produced a chocolate print is in fact 15cm tall. And this maximum height is a limit imposed by the printer size itself, not by the use of chocolate material.
That’s easily the tallest chocolate 3D print I’ve ever heard of. I asked Richard some questions about their company and technology.
La MIAM Factory 3D Prints Chocolate
Fabbaloo: Tell us about the company and how it started?
Gaëtan Richard: “La MIAM Factory is a company that offers its services for the personnalization of food, including chocolate printing in 3D (in addition to macaron engraving, and another project dealing with chocolate, in the pipe but about to be commercialized).
We started this project in beginning 2015 within the frame of the Smart Gastronmy Lab, a living lab dedicated to innovation in gastronomy. At this time, we observed more and more interest for food printing, and we decided to start a project in this field. Chocolate is one of the food materials we tested first as Belgium is worldy known for the quality of its chocolate. In December 2016 we created La MIAM Factory.
We are 5 co-founders. We have numerous worldwide orders for chocolate prints and for demonstrations of 3D chocolate printing during events.”
Building a Chocolate 3D Printer
Fabbaloo: How did you go about inventing the technology?
Gaëtan Richard: “When we started the project, we studied the existing food printers available on the market, but we were not convinced by any of them. So we have chosen a reliable plastic 3D printer, and we modified it to be able to work with food.”
Fabbaloo: Is the machine you’ve developed for sale, or do you simply operate as a service? Do you have intentions of selling the machine in the future?
Gaëtan Richard: “Our printer is not for sale, because it’s not so easy to use it. Several expertises are required. That’s why our business is oriented towards 3D chocolate prints production (service business). In addition, our main customers are non-food companies that just want the chocolate prints as give-aways (its innovative and yummy!), and they are not interested by the production.”
Chocolate 3D Printer Specifications
Fabbaloo: Can you tell us some of the specifications of the machine — build chamber dimensions? Print speeds?
Gaëtan Richard: “The biggest size of the print is a cube of 15 cm (a limitation of the printer’s build volume). It takes 10 min for a small shape of 50×50 mm, 4 mm height to be printed. As for 15 cm height shapes, the printing time can be up to 5 hours owing to the complexity of the shape and the size in the X/Y directions.”
Fabbaloo: If you can, tell us something about how you achieved the ability to print tall? Is there a cooling mechanism involved? Or are you simply tuning the printing parameters very carefully? Printing very slowly?
Gaëtan Richard: “Tricky question for IP reasons. But yes, the printing parameters are carefully adapted to the shape, and the printing speed depends on the complexity/size of the shape.”
3D Printed Chocolate Taste
Fabbaloo: Is the taste of the chocolate affected by your process? We know that temperature has a large effect on taste — and structural strength.
Gaëtan Richard: “No, not affected in the wrong way at least. Indeed, when you eat some food, its ‘taste’ is affected by its structure; for instance, a piece of beef is not appreciated in the same way if you eat it just sliced as a steak or chopped; or with a dry sausage, the taste is different if you eat a thin or thick slice.
For chocolate, it’s the same: since 3D printing enables to obtain very thin structures (in our case the thickness close to 1 mm) the eating experience if different, and some people told us that they prefer the chocolate after printing.
Regarding the temperature, we do not heat the chocolate at high temperatures, so the taste is not affected.”
Via La MIAM Factory