The ability to create or replicate objects by printing them in three dimensions in offices, or even in the home, would have seemed like the stuff of science fiction fantasy only a few years ago. But now scientists are going one step further and working on 3D food printers.
Although the idea of 3D printed food may bring to mind visions of inedible synthetic moulds of otherwise tasty looking morsels, the prototypes currently in development are definitely geared towards the production of real food with nutritional value.
Traditional 3D printers utilise melted down plastic filament, producing the final product by layering the substance into the required shape and density. 3D food printers, on the other hand, will substitute plastic with cartridges of food mix, which is then pumped through a nozzle to achieve the end result.
A Columbia University team of engineers, who are currently working on a printer that could be used to produce food in the home, believe that success could completely alter the way in which we consume food. Having already successfully developed a working printer that is capable of producing food, the team is now focusing on reducing the size to bring it more in line with a standard home appliance, possibly the size of a coffee machine.
The benefits of a 3D food printer are yet to be fully appreciated, but from the outset, if 3D food printers do become commonplace, it will mean that people will have the ability to create nourishing food whenever they want and use online recipes to convert food cartridges into tasty meals. This will by no means signal the end of the careers of traditional cooks and chefs, however, as the frozen food cartridges will not be able to form all of the elements of a healthy balanced diet. However, they may have a very useful application in medical environments where patients might need customised nutrition to aid their recovery.
So what can currently be produced using a 3D food printer and will we soon be tripping down to the local 3D printing bureau to order our Friday night takeaway?
Well so far, both chocolate and dough have been successfully printed, which means that pizza bases, biscuits, and bread are all real possibilities as well as chocolate models and shapes which could be eaten alone or used as edible decorations. As new ingredients are added to the list of compatible foods, and food cartridges are produced using these ingredients, then more complex dishes will be added to the list of printable foods.
Add to this, the fact that researchers are even now attempting to introduce a heating element to the printer arm, and it’s easy to see a future in which we print AND cook our family meals.
You won’t be able to purchase a 3D food printer for your home just yet, unfortunately, and neither will it be a standard offering in any 3D printing bureau, but it is quite possible that first generation models will begin to appear on the market as early as the end of this year.