The Delicious Future: Printing Food?

A potential market for 3D food printing
Photo courtesy of the National Library of France

Photo courtesy of the National Library of France

In 1910, French artist Villemard depicted his vision of the year 2000 on postcards. He anticipated that by 2000, the world would be heavily dependent on machinery and robots. He envisioned flying firefighters, police officers on gliders, and people casually flying on airplanes, blimps, and hot-air balloons amidst the bustling of city people walking beneath a sky-high train.

What makes Villemard’s future endearing is how much it retains elements of his time, while incorporating aspects that depict a ‘vintage future’. What’s more, some of his predictions were to some degree, accurate. These depictions include the electric train, radio news, and audiobooks used in schools. If Villemard were still alive today, would he have been impressed with today’s latest gadgets and technology?

We’ve certainly come a long way, and many may argue that there’s still a longer way to go. We have created smart phones, the Internet, electric cars, and solar panels to harness the sun’s energy. Amongst these amazing gadgets, 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular, as many are attempting to find use for the technology.

3D Printing is Not Your Ordinary Computer Printer

Photo courtesy of John Biehler

3-dimensional printing involves printing an object in 3D (duh). Ink of a desired material is ejected unto a platform and creates a dimensional pattern based on a digital file. The ink is ejected by layers, and is solidified by a laser situated on top of the printer. While the object is being constructed, it is contained in a vat (2).

3D printing was jokingly proposed in 1977 by David Jones, in a letter to New Scientist. He proposed a machine containing a vat with mirrors and a laser. The laser would deflect on the mirrors, creating a pattern. The laser photons would interact with liquid plastic monomers in the vat, solidifying it. The result was a model of the laser patterns. In 1984, Charles W. Hull of the 3D Systems Corporation developed the first, workable 3D printer (4).

Currently, we can create beautiful shapes, patterns, and items of all sorts with this nifty printer. But 3D printing goes beyond these wonderful things. Many today are attempting to develop organs (bioprinting), artificial limbs, and even custom car parts using 3D printers. NASA even plans to include a customized 3D printer on their space crafts to aid in future space efforts. How we think about food may also change, thanks to this increasingly popular technology.

An Attempt at Making Food and Cooking Fun

Photo courtesy of Natural Machines

Natural Machines has developed the Foodini, a 3D printer capable of constructing meals from fresh ingredients. The user prepares the required ingredients, which will be placed into one of the five, 123 mL (4.6 oz) capsule. The capsules can be loaded into the Foodini, while the user chooses which meal to print. The product will require internet connection, to allow easy recipe sharing amongst customers. The Foodini will also automatically update its software and/or firmware whenever available.

After printing, the user can choose to eat it as is, or further cook the meal. Co-Founder Lynette Kucsma hopes that Foodini will encourage people to buy fresh ingredients to prepare healthy, homemade meals, as opposed to resorting to fast, prepackaged food. Although its Kickstarter campaign proved unsuccessful, Nature Machines anticipates that the Foodini will be available by end of the year.

Similarly, 3D systems is also expected to release the ChefJet by the end of 2014. Introduced in the 2014 Las Vegas Consumer Electronic Show (CES), the ChefJet is intended for the average consumer. Printing in full-colour, customers can print objects of intricate shapes and various flavours. From chocolate to watermelon, ChefJet creations are ideal for dessert decorations and confections.

Intricate chocolate designs, chocolate printed logos, customizable oreos, and even dimensional pasta has been creations of the infamous 3D printer. Most of us can admit that pretty desserts and homemade meals made with a printer is fascinating. But does the technology present a more practical use?

Is There a Practical Market for 3D Printing Food?

Photo courtesy of Bizoon

Biozoon‘s Smoothfood was designed to develop food for people with swallowing difficulties, especially among older adults. Made from fresh ingredients, Smoothfood was developed to create pureed food that could be raw, steamed, fresh, or frozen, in the form of airy foam, gel, and thickened pastes. Additionally, unlike many foods designed for the cause, Smoothfood items are constructed in natural food shapes for consumer appeal. Users can develop different foods based on the consumer’s diet, altering the nutrients, vitamins, and portions of the meals. Project manager Sandra Forstner claims that reconstructing appealing shapes is an issue, but stated that “the food tastes like normal food” due to its natural ingredients.

Currently, NASA is attempting to find use for the 3D printer. Last year, they rewarded $125,000 of grant money to Anjan Contractor, a senior engineer at Austin’s Systems and Materials Research Corporation. Contractor designed a 3D printer for pizza. The 3D pizza printer involves mixing powdered ingredients within cartridges. The pizza is printed in layers, and can be constructed in minutes, taking 70 seconds to cook the pie. NASA hopes that 3D printers will create shelf-stable, delicious food that will lessen food waste on space crafts, and ultimately aid in the gruelling journey to Mars (and beyond!).

Can 3D Printing Help Us in the Near Future?

Due to its cost and current lack of potential practicality, 3D printers probably won’t be highly useful to the average consumer right now. Barry Berman also argues that in addition to the current high prices of raw materials (suitable for printing), the 3D printer still faces strength and accuracy issues. Some items developed from 3D printers may be subject to breakage under stress, and also face issues related to heat resistance and shape retainment. Additionally, the lack of 3D printer availability may also stem from legal issues, specifically related to patents.

Additionally, Thomas Campbell and colleagues (2011) argue that 3D printers may also present security and safety risks. There are implications of easier weapon manufacturing, as well as counterfeiting technologies.

Can 3D printers revolutionize our world and paradigm shift our ways of thinking about food and technology? Tell us what you think in the comments section!


Renee C. has received her B.Sc. in Honours Life Sciences at McMaster University. She loves educating others about different topics in science, and has developed a passion for scientific outreach. When she’s not writing articles for Hemtecks, she’s either volunteering or checking her social media accounts every 20 minutes. Along with Tiffany (Tianhemtecks), she also facilitates the blog’s Facebook page. 

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