23-04-2019 | | By Moe Long
3D printing is on the rise. With a slew of increasingly affordable 3D printer options available, using 3D printers is much more accessible. However, advancements in 3D printing find additional uses outside of creating art or making useful gadgets such as coin counters, clocks, and other 3D printable objects. For instance, scientists have 3D printed a heart from human cells, prosthetics, and even houses. There’s a rather unconventional 3D printable item though: food. Learn about this tasty tech, from what 3D printed food is and what you should know about it!
As the name suggests, 3D printed food is merely food that’s been generated with a 3D printer. Though this may sound strange, 3D printable edible objects range from candy and confectionery morsels to pizza. Natural Machines debuted the first 3D food printer capable of churning our both sweet and savory treats. Its Foodini is a hulking Android-powered 3D food printer. Users may select recipes from the Natural Machines forums site and pick from a variety of shapes and concoctions.
Many probably balk at the idea of 3D printing food. Others probably marvel at the sci-fi vibe from 3D printed edibles. Tea, Earl Grey, hot, anyone? From a production standpoint, it’s easy to automate the cooking industry, as well as provide pre-packaged meals. Think of this as the next microwave. While 3D printers are admittedly nowhere near as common, 3D printed food capsules provide the convenience of a TV dinner. Pop in your frozen meal, push a button or use voice commands if you’re using an Alexa-powered microwave, and your food is ready in a few minutes.
Likewise, 3D printed meals boast the same ease of production, albeit with customization. Instead of being beholden to food manufacturers, you’ll be able to customize your meals to use fewer of certain ingredients, such as less salt or sugar. Aside from convenience and automation, there’s even a sustainable element. With 3D printing food, you may utilize the unused and less pretty parts of fish, meat, fruits, and vegetables.
Yet, it’s an imperfect process. Despite the simplicity of meals at the push of a button and automated food production, there’s increased complexity because of the machinery. 3D printers are fickle beasts. You’ll encounter issues aplenty, from unlevel beds to overheating units. Quality control is tough enough with filament, much less food. Moreover, 3D printing can take quite a long time even for a small design. As such, 3D printed food is better suited to smaller items rather than an entire meal. Think tapas, not a three course dinner.
However, the largest deterrents so far are food safety and price. Many affordable 3D printers clock in under $500 or even sub-$200, a specialized printer is required when printing edible objects. They’re a hefty premium. Likewise, food safety prevents 3D printing from catching on more fully. How is Food 3D Printed?
Essentially, to 3D print food, it must essentially be pureed. As with filament, it travels through a tube, and is ultimately extruded. Whereas filament often comes on a spool, edible materials instead are inserted. Just like a non-food printer, you can print virtually any design you wish by creating your own designs, or using community-created versions. But a special nozzle is required when using raw materials instead of filament, ABS, or traditional 3D printing material. One of these nozzles may be placed on a standard 3D printer, though the end result won’t be as high-quality as food created with a dedicated machine.
You’ll find a few professional-caliber food 3D printers. Since 3D printing with edible material isn’t mainstream, this isn’t a household appliance (yet). CocoJet’s chocolate 3D printer is a sweet 3D printer and the Foodform 3D was showcased by renowned pasta company Barilla. There’s also the ChefJet Pro, a neat offering from 3D Systems. Then there’s the magical Foodini.
Will 3D printing food eventually reach the masses, or suffer a quiet death? All of this depends largely on cost, application, and societal acceptance. While many may shudder at the notion of 3D printing meals, a now-common kitchen staple, the microwave, once befell similar scrutiny. Current costs won’t see much adoption, and right now, 3D food printers are best suited to environments where cost isn’t an issue. Plus, at present automation of food production is a bonus of 3D printed treats. Thus, it’s more effective in a commercial kitchen perhaps, though if cost weren’t an issue, home-based 3D food printers would surely thrive. If, that is, they can overcome a potential stigma.