It’s the year 2017, and although flying cars haven’t been invented yet, three dimensional printers have. These 3D printers, which can fit on a desktop, can form objects from plastics, metals, and even FOOD! Food printing is a more recent frontier that could potentially improve nutritional value of meals, or help solve hunger issues in regions of the world that lack access to fresh, and affordable ingredients.
First, let’s talk about the basics of 3D food printing. Most 3D food printers are deposition printers, which means they deposit layers of raw material, while a newer category of 3D printers binds together materials with a kind of edible cement. The latest generation of 3D printers is also the most complex, combing nozzles, powdery material, lasers, and robotic arms to create things like sugar sculptures and latticed pastry. Although much more complicated, these newer printers can create food, like pizza, with fresh ingredients loaded into stainless steel capsules, pretty cool if you ask me.
Now that you have a slight background on 3D printers, how can they actually help? 3D printing can help increase sustainability. The global population is always growing, which means food production is going to have to increase as well. Although 3D printing won’t fully solve all our sustainability problems, it will definitely contribute to the solution. Renewable materials like grass and algae could be used in 3D printing making it easier and more sustainable to feed parts of the ever growing population. Another issue that 3D printers could help with is nutrition. The future of 3D food printers could make processed food healthier. According Hod Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia, “food printing could allow consumers to print food with customized nutritional content, optimized based on biometric and genomic data, so instead of eating a slice of yesterday’s bread from the supermarket, you’d eat something baked just for you on demand. This may be the missing link between nutrition and personal medicine, and the foods that’s on your table.” Sustainability and nutrition only scratches the surface of what 3D food printing could do for our society.
As exciting as this all is, especially with all the recent advancements in 3D food printing, the industry has many challenges to overcome before making any of these dreams a reality. Currently, most ingredients have to be turned into paste before the printer can work with them plus the printing process takes a very long time. Also, as of now most 3D printers are restricted to dry, shelf-stable ingredients because products like diary and protein have a high risk of spoiling. Even with all the challenges scientists and engineers have to face, 3D food printing could become our future, times change and as Lynette Kucsama, CEO and founder of Natural Machines said, “when people first head about microwaves, they didn’t understand the technology- now 90 percent of households have them.”