3d printing of food… Um, delicious?

I love cooking. There, I said it. I love pottering around in the kitchen, chopping, stirring, adding, tasting… So you can understand that I find it hard to get my head around the idea of food, yes, the edible kind, emerging from a printer. But it’s possible. It’s happening. And it’s disconcerting and exciting at the same time. Let me tell you more:

3d printing of food basically consists of organic mush being extruded through a nozzle in pre-determined shapes. That’s the basic version. The not-so-basic version includes an artfully manipulated balance of textures and flavours that produce food objects almost too beautiful to eat. Now, the result may not be delicious, or it may be the most surprising thing we’ve eaten in a long time, who knows? It may not be pretty, or it may be the most amazing confection ever to grace a plate. These are early days yet, and already the possibilities are eye-opening and mouth-watering.

Let’s start with the eye-candy part. A few weeks ago I showed you some examples of 3d-printed sugar decorations:

3d printed candies

Here are a few more to whet your appetite:

3d printed sugar decorations

image from 3DSystems

3d sugar printers

image from 3DSystems

And now for printing healthier parts of the menu… You can do amazing things with mashed potato:

3d printed food

re-imagined fish and chips, image from Natural Machines

You can also make funky things like shaped quiches, nuggets, burgers…

3d printing of healthy food

images from Natural Machines

The top pasta company Barilla is developing a 3d printer to produce creative pasta shapes, and is crowdsourcing the shape development through a contest open to the public:

3d printed pasta

image from Dezeen, a prototype, not real pasta

And for a healthy between-meal snack, some 3d-printed fruit:

3d printed fruit

image from dovetailed.co

Then there are the practical uses. The German company Biozoon has been working with 3d printing to develop tasty food for old peoples’ homes, food that doesn’t require chewing but that has texture, taste, and looks, well, not so awful. Imagine what that can do for morale not to mention nutrition.

3d printed food

image from Biozoon

And think about the possibilities for space travel. No more packing in bulky supplies whose uniform texture and taste end up causing psychological damage. NASA has commissioned the development of a printer that can produce pizzas that don’t look too bad. It has to be better than sipping mush through a straw.

Even the US military is doing their own research into the possibility of printing food with what they find on the terrain, or with adding supplements to 3d-printed edibles according to the type of mission.

The eco-evangelists and technology advocates are excited about the elimination of food waste. With no chopping, slicing, peeling or boning, less is thrown away. Nutritionists get worked up about the ease with which individual dietary requirements can be satisfied. Personalized nutrition for each member of the family sounds efficient, although perhaps a bit… boring?

3d food printer from TNO

image from tno.nl

The technology is still in its infancy, and since it can improve the quality of life for the elderly and people in extreme situations, such as space or the desert, the push to expand the possibilities and bring down the cost and weight is very exciting. Personally, I’m more interested in the culinary boundaries that can be broken, and the novelty of the new combinations, textures and shapes that the food artists can come up with.

It is becoming possible to experiment with this at home. Natural Machines (based here in Spain!) is developing the Foodini, a countertop printer which should hit the market at about $1200. Their web assures us that “Foodini manages the difficult and time-consuming parts of food preparation that often discourage people from creating homemade food.” However, the Foodini doesn’t actually cook the food. You do that, and you fill the capsules, with which the Foodini will print amazing shapes.

3d food printer

image of the Foodini, from Natural Machines

I think the artistic side of 3d food printing is fascinating, and throughout history we have loved to play with our food. So let’s get creative with this new technology and push the aesthetic and sensory limits of what we eat. But only on special occasions, please. Personally, I do not want to live in a world which has lost the joy of pottering about in the kitchen, producing with your own hands food that family and friends enjoy. The social aspect of sharing pleasurable experiences is part of what makes our civilization so inter-connected and productive. Let’s tinker, experiment and move the boundaries of what we can do. But let’s not lose sight of what makes life worth living.

— x —

For more on 3d printing, check out my Flipboard magazine “3d printing”:

flipboard 3dprinting

0 thoughts on “3d printing of food… Um, delicious?

  1. I do agree so much with your approach… Though imagine the possibilities not only for elder people, but also people suffering any kind of problems with eating, swallowing or just tasting. Parkinson, cancer, hard chemo treatments…

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