3D Printing is one technology which I expect will produce radical changes in our lives, even in the foreseeable future. We’ve seen it used in manufacturing and prototyping for some time. 3D Printers have been used in medicine to create prosthetic devices for animals, and even a successful human skull implant. There are 3D printed guitars and even working guns. As the printers become more affordable for home users, we’re seeing them use to design and produce a wide array of items including jewelry, clothing, tools, and toys. I’ve previously written about 3D printed masks used to foil surveillance cameras.
So it was only a matter of time until 3D Printed Food appeared. It’s got a long way to go in terms of affordability and accessibility, but the concept is perfect for today’s lifestyle. Instant food you can design on your computer. You can download recipes / formulas / blueprints and instantly print tonight’s dinner or dessert.
It will undoubtedly be some time before I can come home and, like Captain Picard, order “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot” from the Replicator on the U.S.S. Enterprise. But in the meantime, here are some of the more interesting applications of 3D Printed Food:
NASA: 3D Printed Food In Space
Our friends at NASA have been at the forefront of research in this area. NASA’s Advanced Food Technology project has been exploring methods of providing food which is safe, nutritious and palatable for passengers on extended deep space missions. Their latest endeavor is a machine which will print pizza. The dough will be baked on a heated plate as it’s being printed, then covered with the tomato base (which starts in powdered form and is mixed with water and oil) and finally topped with a “protein layer”, which could be dairy-based or from another source.
Take a look at the pizza printer doing its thing:
ChefJet Pro: 3D Confectionary Printing
Kyle and Liz von Hasseln had used 3D printers in their studies at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. They were experimenting with different uses of the printers, when, as fate would have it, they needed to bake a birthday cake, but had no oven. So,they hacked a 3D color printer and eventually developed a process of printing complex confections. They’re now in business as The Sugar Lab and are producing a machine which will print “custom edible geometries”.
ChocEdge’s mission is to use 3D printing technology to elevate the creation of chocolates to new levels. For those without the artistic flair, their website offers plenty of patterns for innovative chocolate candy designs.
Natural Machines hopes to make 3D printed food available to the home user, based on what they call an open capsule model. Rather than use a supply of printing material, the machine, called Foodini, comes with empty capsules which can be filled with healthy food ingredients, enabling printing of high quality, health-conscious foods. Foodini is internet enabled, for integration with online recipes, as well as constant software updates.
Biozoon: 3D Printed Food For The Elderly
While Foodini eschews the use of goopy compounds in favor of natural food ingredients, the German company, Biozoon, is going in the opposite direction. They are working to develop a line of gelatin-based, nutritive food materials to provide meals for elderly patients in nursing homes whose health conditions such as dysphagia require them to eat softer, more liquidy foods. Ingredients, including vitamin supplements, can be customized based on a doctor or nutritionist’s instructions.
BioPrinted Meat: No Animals Killed
One of the more science-fictiony uses of 3D printing is the new field of bioprinting. Modern Meadow is developing tissue engineering processes to cultivate laboratory produced “meat”, which can be printed into a variety of products. While somewhat controversial, the idea of producing “meat” which doesn’t require slaughter or the tremendous investment of environmental resources involved in raising animals to be killed, could prove to be a valuable step towards addressing the issues of growing population and increasing food consumption levels.
3D printed food is a field which is still in the embryonic stages. But Star Trek’s replicator seems less of a fantasy every day.