Food and 3D printing might seem like unlikely partners at first. Until recently, 3D printers had stuck to the world of engineering, creating 3-dimensional shapes and designs that carried exact measurements to a degree which would have been impossible to achieve manually. Now, however, the world is waking up to the possibilities of what a 3D printer can do when placed in a kitchen setting.

Early Applications

Of course, the idea of using 3D printers to create food didn’t just appear overnight. Ever since the creation of the 3D printing machine, enthusiasts from all over the world have been experimenting to see what kind of applications the devices can be put to. Somewhere along the line, people realized that the printer can be used to create toppings for dishes in stylish designs with far greater accuracy than what regular pastry makers could achieve. 

This trend of using 3D printers to create toppings naturally led some to wonder what else the 3D printer could accomplish with food as its fuel instead of plastic. One of the earliest attempts to use the 3D printer to create edible food was when a German company created food items for seniors using the machine, where the resulting paste-like dish was essentially a pureed form of their regular meals that contained all the necessary nutrients that was much easier to chew and consume.  

Full Course Meals

A few years after these early experiments and 3D printed full course meals are now a reality. The world has fully opened up to the idea of 3D printed meals, and early adopters of the technology have been very enthusiastic in trying out new ways to make food using 3D printers. While 3D printers cannot create every type of food, they does offer an impressive variety for such a nascent field. Pizzas, quiches, pasta, and gum are just some of the foods that have been prepared with the help of 3D printers with more aesthetic designs and more precise measurements than anything human hands can create.

The food creation method consists of adding separate food groups in an automated, additive manner to the mix that eventually becomes one complete dish. The process of making food with the 3D printer works in much the same manner as with creating other objects, where the food material is extruded through the machine’s print head onto a surface. A number of 3D printers created specifically for certain food products have entered the market, such as the Cocojet, which creates 3D edible prints of chocolate, to the Chefjet, which is used to create sugary cake toppings in delightfully intricate designs.  

3D Print Restaurants

The next step in creating 3D printed food is the establishment of eateries for fulfilling customer demand. While the culinary world is still waking up to the full possibilities of 3D printed food, plenty of conferences are held around the world for the purpose of introducing patrons to this new style of food making. 

Meanwhile, Foodink has taken upon itself to lead the charge towards a future where restaurants serve 3D printed food. The company describes itself as a one-of-a-kind (for now) gourmet experience that uses a 3D printer to create their restaurant’s food, utensils, and furniture from scratch. The company is currently on a tour around the world, during which time they will visits as many cities as possible and introduce the citizens to their new food business model.       

Going Global

The question that now arises is, will 3D food printers one day enjoy the same level of global popularity that ovens and fridges do today? Experts believe they will. 3D food printers do what all the most popular kitchen appliances do: they make the process of making food faster and simpler, and present a greater variety of choices to cooks in terms of the style and design of the dish.

Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing. Several factors which some perceive as obstacles are preventing more people from investing in 3D food printing technology. One important point is that 3D printers can’t cook meat yet. You can’t imagine a steak coming out of a printing machine. Fortunately, there have been some advances in this regard. Scientists at the University of Bristol have created Bioink, which is a form of 3D ink composed of stem cells which can be extruded from the print head, and treated in a bioreactor. The Bioink turns into the desired organ tissue to be made into eatable meat. While the idea might appear futuristically bizarre to some, it’s actually the same technique that doctors are using right now to create human organs for surgical implantation. 

Another point that is raised is the limited choices in terms of food products that can be processed by the printer. But this is a temporary complaint. Every day, new food groups are being added to the list of items that can be used in a 3D food machine. The technology is still in its infancy, but the possibilities it raises in terms of food production are incredibly significant, even leading to hopeful speculation that it could one day end world hunger.       

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Mark is the Editor-in-Chief of So Good Blog.

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