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Today, 3D printers can create almost anything the mind can imagine – from movie props and aeroplane parts to organs and entire homes. Talk about an image makeover?! But how do we feel about 3D printed food?

3D Printed Food

Source: DinaraKasko.com

In my previous blog post, How the 3D Printed Food Industry is Growing, I mentioned that our current global food model is unsustainable; with the world’s population estimated to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 (United Nations), something needs to change. In fact, experts believe production rates need to increase by 50% before 2050.

The good news is that groundbreaking steps are being taken in the right direction – all thanks to the progressive world of 3D printing. Within this realm, there are already a range of advanced technologies working towards making food production more efficient, increasingly sustainable and undeniably intelligent.

The Origins of 3D Printed Food

The concept of 3D Printed Food got off the ground in 2006, when NASA began researching the technology. In 2013, the agency developed the NASA Advanced Food Program, with a simple mission: to best feed a team of astronauts for longer missions and make the freeze dried food more appealing.

In cooperation with BeeHex, NASA developed the Chef3D, which was able to 3D print a pizza. Since then, several companies have entered this realm, making pasta, sugar, pastry, vegetable mixes, chocolate and much more.

3D Printed Food Benefits

Creative Machines Lab researcher Jonathan Blutinger believes the merits of 3D food printing lie in the simple fact that more innovative products can be created. And the more innovative a product, the more it appeals to the average 2019 consumer.

Food rendering

Source: Jonathan Blutinger, researcher at Creative Machines Lab

In addition, with the help of 3D printing, new tastes can be elaborated and both the health of consumers and the environment can benefit.

Here are three ways how:

1. Hospital needs

Jonathan Blutinger is passionate about the use of 3D food printing in hospitals to ensure meals are adapted to patients’ individual nutritional needs, helping both to speed up recovery times and lead to better health outcomes:

“A seamless integration of medicine into human nutrition could be made more pleasant. This means not only adapting food to nutritional needs, but also integrating individual medications into it,” he explains.

2. Dietary needs

In today’s society, where trends such as veganism, gluten-free and dairy-free are on the rise, 3D printing can respond to these growing trends by ensuring a meal has a precise set of ingredients.

Lynette Kucsma, CEO and co-founder of Natural Machines (manufacturer of Foodini 3D food printer) believes 3D printed food has the potential to change the food market landscape in an unprecedented way.

“People will again be more interested in what they eat,” she explains. She herself has a Foodini at home and says her children find it fascinating.

In addition, for the health conscious, there is the potential to coordinate your wearable devices to a 3D printer. Calorie information can be transferred from fitness trackers to 3D printers to create a customised meal that keeps your diet on track.

3. Increased sustainability

Global sustainability is becoming a priority for us all, and while the 3D food printing industry won’t eradicate all the current issues surrounding unsustainable international food production practices, it can certainly help.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Tangible Media Group have transferred the modern ethos of flat-packing to food production. They predict that their pioneering creation could help reduce food-shipping costs, whilst saving distributors and consumers valuable time and money. It could also mean that more food can get to the people who need it most.

Founder and director of the AgeLab at MIT, Joseph F. Coughlin, believes 3D printing could reduce fuel use and emissions. Grocery stores of the future could potentially stock “food cartridges” he said.

These would then last for years instead of the plethora of perishable ingredients currently available, freeing up shelf space and reducing transportation and storage requirements.

Who is Doing 3D Food Printing Right

There is a lot going on in the 3D printed food world right now. High-end commercial kitchens, top pastry chefs and state-of-the-art food companies have gradually been adding 3D food printers to their culinary equipment collections.

Moreover, the modern generation of 3D food printers are more complex than ever before, utilizing nozzles, powdery material, lasers and robotic arms to make sugar sculptures, intricately patterned chocolate and latticed pastry.

Below, I summarize a few of my favorites innovations:

  • Barilla: The Italian food company, uses a 3D printing machine to make pasta using a simple mixture of water and semolina.
  • Chefjet: A 3D food printer that crystalizes thin layers of fine-grain sugar into various geometric configurations.
  • ByFlow: It’s chief product, the Focus 3D Food Printer, is a portable 3D food printing machine that costs around $4,380. The company plans to expand into the airline meal world and focus on selling printers to schools to educate the chefs of tomorrow.
  • Dinara Kasko 3D pastry printing: Ukrainian pastry chef Kasko uses 3D technologies to design her own unique plastic molds rather than for the food itself, allowing her to create increasingly extravagant shapes.
  • CocoJet: 3D Systems has tackled the food 3D printing market by developing its own 3D chocolate printer, the CocoJet. The additive manufacturing giant worked with US confectioners Hershey, who supplied the chocolate printing material. Ideal for cooks or chocolatiers who would like to create unique chocolate creations with a more complex design.
  • Foodini: Natural Machines’ primary goal was to explore quality and food safe 3D printing. The Foodini has different types of nozzles that allow you to print with almost any food material possible including pizza, quiche, chocolate or hummus. In addition, the startup shares recipes and examples of how to use the machine.

Food for Thought

There’s no doubt about it — 3D food printing has come a long way in recent years. Campden BRI recently began a research project to assess and evaluate how 3D-printing applications could benefit the food industry, which will be an interesting one to watch.

While 3D food printing is a great idea in complex or mass cooking scenarios, time will ultimately tell if it’s here to stay for everyday use. For instance, home users will be responsible to source and purchase all the food components before inputting them into the machine.

One thing I am certain about is that applying 3D food printing technology to the food sector is complex and like most innovative developments, it will take time to gain momentum on a quotidian culinary landscape.

Indeed, there are many complex factors to consider, including:

  • Shelf-life
  • Microbiological contamination
  • Printing temperature
  • Textures
  • Rheology

People will also have to consider whether different foods are appropriate for printing. However, the fact that 3D-printing may have benefits for reducing process development and new product development times, cutting down food waste, improving the nutritional value of meals and even solving hunger in certain parts of the world where fresh and affordable ingredients are inaccessible, makes it a potentially significant historical innovation.

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