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Laser-fried bacon strips: when worlds collide

From Gentec-EO: Bacon-loving physicists and engineers rejoice! The powers that be have heard our plea: laser-fried bacon strips are now a thing. What a time to be alive, to cite a Canadian rapper.

Laser cooking, for lack of a better name at this time, is a novel dry-heating method pioneered in Japan by Kentaro Fukuchi at Meiji University, along with his associate Kazuhiro Jo from Kyushu University.

Their approach is actually the subject of a paper, so their methodology and observations are documented in a way that corresponds with the scientific method. It goes without saying that the food is grabbing our attention here, but as a company operating in the domain of laser applications, we couldn’t help but notice some details about the laser setup and process as a whole in use in these videos.  

WHEN PAN-FRYING BECOMES TOO MAINSTREAM

Laser cooking may look like a gimmick, but it is actually an interesting solution to efficiency and quality in fine cuisine. More specifically, the word paired with quality here would be repeatability: a master cook tends to prepare a dish always in the same way, thanks to his/her immense knowledge about food and cooking methods, along with some well-acquired skills. The cook is able to replicate a dish correctly every single time, like a machine, if you will. But it’s always nice when you are in fact a machine, like a laser is.

Kentaro Fukuchi from Fukuchi Lab probably understands this, so we understand where he is coming from with this idea. One of his most popular appearance on the web was in 2015, on the Munchies channel on Youtube.

Host Simon Klose, a documentary filmmaker from Sweden, went ahead and met Kentaro Fukuchi to learn more about his laser usage to fry only the fatty part of a raw strip of bacon. This video takes us through Kentaro’s garage, which is his laboratory for all practical purposes.

He is in fact part of the greater Maker Movement, which encompasses people having a DIY (do-it-yourself) vision to problem-solving. The tinkerers of this movement use their creative skills to build and design machines that can fulfill their purpose in a way that is on par with industrial solutions in some cases. Throw in their lively spirits and openness to share with others their developments along with the vast resources fond online nowadays, and you can make a lot on your own.

Kentaro and his associate use the Hajime from Oh-Laser (Japanese-only), a CO2 laser that can dish out up to 40 W of continuous optical power. Here’s a shameless plug: Gentec-EO is the proud supplier of laser beam measurement solutions to Oh-Laser, for a couple years now! Fun fact: although it appears like the red laser is the one causing the frying, it is in fact the CO2 laser source that causes this. This is quite a nuance because the radiation here has a wavelength around 10 µm, which makes it part of the larger infrared spectrum.

The laser-engraving (or cutting) machine can follow a very specific 2D pattern, which allows Kentaro to target specific parts of the bacon strip. This is coming from the fact that eating raw meat is an integral part of Japanese tradition and culture, hence the need for Kentaro to proceed this way.

Kentaro describes, on his website, how the laser frying here allows ‘’new tastes, textures, decorations and engraving unique identifiers to the ingredients’’. This statement could raise an eyebrow, but it actually makes quite a lot of sense because laser cooking is indeed a dry-heating cooking method, a non-contact one at that, which is not the case for pan-frying and grilling, for instance.

This makes laser cooking interesting because the process does not depend on a cooking vessel here, which implies that the heat transfer is extremely precise not only spatially but also thermodynamically, if you will (as in, the energy transfer from the optical laser source to the food).

Let’s be fair: you just got to love when he says that the frying process taking a long time is ‘’a typical problem of laser cooking’’.

PUSHING LASER COOKING TO THE LIMITS

Kentaro and his team are not alone in this laser cooking trend. More recently, and back here in North America, William Osman is a YouTuber that amassed quite an amount of views on some of his videos, especially when they involve lasers. He is a mechanical/electrical engineer based in California and does not exactly work with the same finesse as the Japanese guys. He did try to cut meat too, but he went further by trying to cut hair, cook potato chips, and pop popcorn (it works) with a laser.

I mean, we physicists and engineers are usually stuck with how lasers fit into actual industrial applications, but I invite you to check out his channel to find answers to any bizarre question you ever had as you learned more about lasers. In most, if not all, cases, you will be surprised to find that lasers bring quality and reproducibility even in the most unexpected application. Food cooking is one of them.

LASERS AREN’T JUST COOL: THEY’RE ACTUALLY USEFUL

Who would have thought, right?

On a more serious note (lasers are serious stuff after all), this whole laser cooking thing is a demonstration of a greater trend, which relates lasers with the idea of quality.

A product that was processed with the use of a laser, or at least that involves one, is an assessment of its quality and its reliability. Lasers are pretty for sure, but on a more technical level, the fact that they are such punctual and controllable sources of energy is what makes it so desirable to use: they allow a process to be highly repeatable, they come in many forms, and they are oh-so-powerful as they currently stand.

Therefore, it is only natural for a laser user to ensure his/her laser equipment works according to specifications, because it would otherwise defy their purpose. In other words, the desirable traits that give lasers an edge over other technologies are only valid if the laser source itself is properly characterized to be functioning well.

Now, it may not necessarily apply to a guy like William Osman (although it wouldn’t hurt, no pun intended), but in the industrial market, it is absolutely imperative to ensure the laser equipment is working properly. Medical equipment manufacturers are also compelled by this idea, since the American Food & Drug Administration has a whole section about laser usage.

The first thing to check is the optical power or energy the laser source spits out, which is where we, at Gentec-EO, are really proud to step in with our laser power meters and laser energy meters, and also our beam diagnostics line of products.

We are already working with many major organizations around the globe, so feel free to let us know your laser specifications and application. Just contact us and we’ll get in touch with you in the shortest delays.

Now, anyone down for a tasty burger with bacon?

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