BBC news reports today on scientists at the University of Exeter in the UK who have developed a new chocolate 3D printer. Instead of extruding tasteless plastic, this printer is capable of extruding liquified chocolate into solid - and edible - objects. The process is similar to other extrusion-based 3D printers: squirt and solidify each layer in succession, gradually building up a complete object. Or food item in this case.
We've seen attempts at chocolate printing before, but mainly they were experiments that simply proved it could be accomplished mechanically. However, as kitchen chefs all know, cooking is more than just tossing ingredients together. The best food comes from careful attention to fresh ingredients, sequencing and temperature control. That's what seems to be the focus of this new chocolate experiment, where researchers wish to find the right way to make the food actually taste good. On the other hand, we think any chocolate is good chocolate!
Interestingly, they're also working on a "consumer friendly interface" for people to design their own chocolate objects.
Informal discussions we have with the public about 3D printing invariably drift over to the topic of "food printing". It seems that people have an extremely strong interest in printing food, while the 3D printer manufacturers consistently avoid this capability, instead focusing on industrial or personal manufacturing uses.
The first food printers will likely be similar to this experiment, using chocolate and similar feed (food?) material. They'll probably first appear in expensive kitchens to prepare unique desserts or cake toppers for weddings, etc. Eventually if the price comes down and sufficient ecosystem appears, we may see these things show up in kitchens across the land.
Meanwhile, we'll settle for a chocolate bar.
Image Credit: David Martin, EPSRC