Would you eat this 3D printed spaghetti?

A couple weeks back, I was shocked when I learned of the rapid advancement and application of additive printing. To my surprise, it had already developed the ability to combine various materials and manufacture complex products in one run. Take a pair of sunglasses for example—without the need to mold and assemble separate pieces, 3D printers can now make the earpieces soft and flexible, while making the rims holding the lenses hard and durable. The technology’s cost-efficiency and ability to produce highly customizable, quality products have already begun to change the eye-wear industry. And as the capabilities of additive printers continue to evolve, there is no doubt that it will disrupt an infinite number of other industries too.

Safilo 3D printed collection

Safilo 3D printed collection

What about the food & restaurant industry?

3D food printing is real and it’s here. The Foodini is one of the most advanced 3D food printers in the market that can use “fresh ingredients load into stainless steel capsules” to make candy, brownies, pizza, spaghetti and so much more. Commercial kitchens and even Michelin star restaurants (like Miramir in Spain) have already begun to use them for two primary reasons. First, it allows for an infinite number of possibilities for food design and shapes—the machine can achieve a level of detail and sophistication unmatchable by the human hand. Especially in high-end restaurants, where presentation is highly valued, restaurants can impress the diners by providing chefs with the tools to bring their wildest and most creative food ideas into fruition.

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Second, it saves time, and lots of it. Yes, the most talented of chefs can make delicate deserts by hand, but it requires a significant amount of time. With the 3D printer creating perfect circles and printing layers as thin as half a millimeter, the chefs can focus on other tasks—like making sure the steak is cooked to a perfect medium rare.

While I expect the impact of additive printing on commercial kitchens to grow exponentially, I personally find the implications for retail use at home even more fascinating. Foodini is currently being rolled out exclusively to professional kitchens, but will be targeting home users as well. In an era where fewer and fewer people are willing to cook at home or spend a substantial amount of time sitting down for a meal, this could have a huge market potential. In the US and around the world, the quick service restaurant industry has prospered precisely because it has catered to this shifting trend in the customers’ eating habits and their inclination towards fast, convenient food. Well, 3D food printers will make preparing and eating food even more convenient.

Foodini.jpg

Let’s explore how Foodini makes pizza for instance. Foodini is android-powered, and users can choose recipes from the company’s community site, accessible on a smartphone or tablet with Wi-Fi. Once pizza has been selected, users may choose any shape of pizza from the library, or customize and create their own. The printer’s cartridges are filled with the necessary ingredients, and the nozzle begins to layer liquid dough, tomato sauce, melted cheese, and toppings in chronological order. This process takes a total of 5 minutes. The pizza does still need to be tossed in the oven, but there will undoubtedly come a day when the printer can also heat and cook food in one run.

 

Pizza

Some may be skeptical of eating food created from a printer at first, and rightfully so. The reason the growth of fast-casual restaurants like Shake Shack, Panera, and Chipotle has been dominating that of the traditional fast food chains like McDonalds in recent years is the public’s increasing concern of health issues. But the 3D food printers are in line with this healthy trend—in fact, some experts believe they would improve the nutritional value of meals. Hod Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia, told The New York Times that “food printing could allow consumers to print food with customized nutritional content, optimized based on biometric and genomic data.”

At first, I would expect it will take some time for people to adjust to the idea of eating a food out of a printer. But just like the microwave, I think it has the potential to become a must-have appliance in every household’s kitchen, once the retail price reaches a reasonable level.

What are other uses for 3D food printing?

  • Safe and appealing food for those with ailments or allergies – In Germany, retirement homes have invested in printers that can puree vegetables like broccoli into soft molds of their original shape, making it not only easy-to-chew, but also physically appealing to the elders who are tired of liquid food. Meanwhile, a 3D printing company in Italy (WASP) is testing a printer that can produce gluten free foods to serve those with food allergies.
  • Cost savings for grocery stores – replacing perishable whole ingredients with “food cartridges” for printers that can last for years can save grocery stores shelf space, transportation, and storage costs. At the same time, we may see a sharp decline in frozen, microwaveable foods.
  • Space meals will become a whole lot more interesting – American start-up BeeHex is set to launch its 3D Chef Robot, which will allow NASA astronauts to have food in space that not only tastes good, but also looks just like a meal cooked on Earth (rather than freeze-dried pre-packaged meals).

Implications

3D food printing still is in its premature stages. It’s too slow for mass production, it’s expensive, and the range of food textures it can produce are still limited. But it has a tremendous potential—it will change the way professional kitchens prepare their food, and it can even challenge the very existence of instant home-made foods. There may come a day not so far from today, when America’s beloved microwaveable Easy Mac goes extinct.

Click here to admire some of the beautiful 3D printed foods of today.

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Sources

11 comments

  1. Catherine · · Reply

    I had heard of 3-D food printing, but only to the extent that I knew it existed. Now even food is flirting with the creepy-cool line! It will be interesting to see where the world of nutrition is headed, in a world where you are able to disguise kale quiche as a cracker. I have to say I am skeptical of eating this food, but I have also never seen it or tasted it. I would be willing to try 3-D printed food and see the food industry changing in the future because of it. Great post!

  2. kaitlinardiff · · Reply

    I personally think this definitely enters the creepy world! With the plethora of research done on the counterproductive effects of reduced-fat and no-sugar foods by adding in questionable chemicals, I find it hard to believe that 3-D food doesn’t do the same. We know that a natural diet is much better than a processed one, and 3-D printing seems to epitomize processed foods. I wonder if this is just another fad, but I wouldn’t want to use it until we know more about the effects on our body from this food! Cool post!

  3. I think 3D printing for food would be super awesome after it gets developed further! Being able to customize the nutritional content of your food is currently limited to throwing ingredients into a blender and consuming it in a liquid form, which gets old real fast. I think where most people would draw the line is that the printers would need to preserve the natural elements of the ingredients and not be chock full of preservatives, fillers or additives. If 3D food printers can attain that function, I would be totally open to eating from it. The concept is much better than quick, meal replacement solutions like Soylent and less creepy than stem cell generated food.

  4. clairemmarvin · · Reply

    Great post! I never really thought about the possibilities of 3D printing for the food industry. Until there is a way for 3D printers to actually cook the food however, I don’t see them catching on in a big way for home kitchen appliances. I would be totally okay eating something that came out of a 3D printer however, and think it will only become more normalized as these technologies continue to develop. If only there was a way for 3D printers to make the food taste better or fresher, then that would really be a food revolution!

  5. This is a really interesting topic. I am sure the benefits could be huge once its developed more. As special diets like gluten and dairy free or peanut allergies become more prevalent, being able to control and avoid cross contamination of allergens could add a lot of value to this technology.
    I have also heard a lot recently about growing meat and vegetables from petri dishes. That feels more on the creepy side, but I wonder how the two could be used in conjunction with each other.
    It sounds awesome that food can be made to look more presentable especially in upscale restaurants, but it also feels like cheating in a way. For example, I would be impressed by someone if they had perfect handwriting, but not if they printed out a word document with perfect print. I realize that it’s very practical and efficient, but it seems to take the art out of cooking which I appreciate. This conflict reminds me of @ojeagle121‘s post https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/23744325/posts/1654508968. Even if it rationally makes sense to use this technology, old-fashioned ways can be hard to let go of.

  6. I love the way you broke this down! As someone who’s eaten a lot with older (family) people who have limited diets, the opportunity to make things more interesting for them could actually have a direct impact on their health.

    It reminds me of Clover’s Impossible Burger/Meatballs – https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2017/09/27/tried-clover-clever-meatless-meatball-sub-and-you-should-too/uGWbHei64gAgABj7ZJzb7J/story.html. The idea freaks me out in theory, but it’s no less safe/healthy than some of the other stuff I eat willingly (Cheetos?!). I’m curious to see how much it catches on, especially in fancy restaurants. Like @mariellemarcus1, I’d be less impressed by something similar that was 3D printed rather than produced by a chef.

  7. Wow, super interesting! I did not realize how real how real 3D food printing actually is! I kind of associated it with flying cars and something very far out of reach! I really enjoyed how you explained everything in this post. I think you provided sufficient detail on the background, current usage, and future usage of 3D food printing. I also liked how you added your opinion and your take on some of the topics you brought up. It was good to hear you voice throughout the post!

  8. s_courtney18 · · Reply

    Awesome post Joon! The idea of customizable foods is definitely a cool one, but I do agree with many of the other commenters — who knows whether these cartridges of food will have benefits or negative side effects based on their preservatives, etc.? Personally, I think this would be a very effective idea for extremely simple foods such as pasta, cookies, or any other homogenous, easy-to-mix foods, but I personally would not want to have a pizza made by a printer when I could have one made by an Italian man like Mr. Pino at Cleveland Circle! Once these 3D printers get on the level of making food that tastes just as good and is as healthy as unprinted foods, I’ll give it a try.

  9. Great post! I will definitely be interested to see where 3-d printed food goes. Unfortunately, if they are only limited to shapes, then I think it will be a novelty. I do know that McKormick spices is using AI/analytics to do spice development as well.

  10. Yvette Zhou · · Reply

    I am always interested in 3D printing and it is so good to see you post here! I thought 3D printing was only applied to research and high technology level. I am surprised to see it applies to daily products like food and glasses now. It definitely helps to make life easier and more efficient. i am looking forward to see how 3D printed food perform and want to try one!

  11. This was a really interesting blog post! I definitely think that this technology would be really helpful to my friend who is gluten, dairy and nut free. Often it is difficult for her to find any food options at restaurants and fast-causal food places because of her dietary restrictions. Through these food printers, my friend can easily feel assured that her food will have no cross contamination, if the restaurant makes sure that they only print specific types of food using that printer. It is also interesting to read that frozen dinners may soon lose popularity, as it further affirms our point that when a new technology develops, it typically causes the loss of a current product or service in use.

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