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Would you like a Vish for dinner?

A 3D printed salmon fillet using vegetable cells. The 3D printing can provide the appearance and texture of the real thing, although it would be a Vegetable Fish, Vish for short. Warning: the salmon fillet may be the result of a 3D printing or it can just be there to show what they would like to achieve! Image credit: Felix Bioprinter

I am seeing more and more news on 3D printing food. A recent report from ResearchAndMarkets forecasts a growth from 485 million $ expected in 2020 to 1 billion in 2025. So far most of the talks have been hopes enveloped in marketing, aimed mostly at Venture Capital. There are a number of start ups pursuing the goal of creating meat like food using plants as alternative protein source.

The first objective is to create a food that can trick our brain into believing it is the real thing. This requires an attack on all our senses, not just taste.  Eyes and touch need to send convincing messages to the brain. The first attempt focused on food that can be presented in a way that hides the look of the real meat, like breaded croquettes, hamburger …

Now, some companies like Legendary Vish -a Vienna based start up- have raised the bar and aims at food where the visual part is as important as the taste.

To achieve this goal Legendary Vish (short for Vegan Fish) uses a 3D printing process to create both texture, a crucial aspect in fooling our taste buds and look and feel of a salmon fillet (see photo). The 3D printer, a Felix Bioprinter, is able to use different “inks” made of plant cells to recreate the subtle colour difference, from pink to red, of salmon including the whitish lines peculiar of salmon fillet connective tissue.

Legendary Vish tested its new salmon flavour in a plant-based spread. Warning: the salmon on the left is a REAL salmon! The spread on the right was created by plant cells and tasted like real salmon. Image credit: Legendary Vish

If the photos shown by Vish are true result of the printing process I should say I am impressed. In terms of taste they declare that blind series of tasters have not shown the ability to pick up the real salmon from the vegetable printed one. This would be really amazing and would signal a first important step in curbing the waste involved in producing meat by turning to vegetable cells.

I was not able to find “facts” on cost nor productivity (the only clip I found on printing a fake salmon fillet shows that it still takes a lot of time to print a single portion). In a different article I have read Legendary Vish reps saying that as the goal of creating a look-like salmon fillet has been achieved the company will turn to tackling the cost aspect to make it possible its uptake on the mass market (so far it is targeting vegan market and more specifically the one of people that are willing to pay more for decreasing waste in the food chain). This seems to indicate that there is still quite a lot of progress needed to move to an industrial production that ultimately would decrease cost.

On the other hand, additive manufacturing has become an industrial process in these last few years after having being used for prototypes. The increase of speed of 3D printers in manufacturing may well translate in a few years in the possibility of industrial production of food.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.