Research at Columbia University is investigating the possibility of cooking food while it’s being 3D printed.
3D printed food is not a new thing; it’s been an experimental project ever since I got involved in the technology over twelve years ago. Most of the time “food 3D printing” is simply mounting a syringe extruder on a motion gantry to allow an edible paste to be deposited in a rough shape.
Pasty materials such as chocolate, peanut butter and anything you can put through a blender are the usual material suspects. Many such items are simply eaten as is, although some might be placed in an oven after printing to cook the food.
3D Print Layer Cooking
However, the new research is looking into a new paradigm in which the food is cooked as each layer is deposited. Thus, when the print completes, you would have a completely edible item.
A video by Mashable at the link below details the project taking place at Columbia under noted 3D print researcher Hod Lipson.
From what I can gather from the video they’ve developed a multi-material food 3D printer that has seven possible food cartridges, which, as expected, would hold extrudable pasty food products, such as minced meats or dough. This device was used to produce millimeter-resolution edible objects.
Cooking 3D Prints With Lasers
The trick, however, is to cook the layers, which does not yet seem to have been done. The research team appears to be separately researching how that can be done.
They’ve chosen a laser to perform the cooking, and as this has never been done before they must work out the parameters for successful cooking. This must be a complex matter, as cooking parameters would include not only the speeds and power levels required during the print, but they must very precisely match the cooking requirements for each of the different food materials in a print.
I suspect that once they’ve figured out how to do the cooking they will develop a device that integrates both extrusion and cooking to achieve the final goal: a 3D printer that can print cooked food.
Lipson explains that one of the major barriers will be software. He says, correctly, that no 3D CAD program exists to handle food design. All CAD systems today pay attention only to the geometric shape and sometimes the type of materials involved. None recognize a need for cooking instructions, such as warming, searing, etc.
Lipson mentions they have been speaking to venture capitalists about the concept, and this suggests that at some point this technology may become a reality. However, it appears that it may be quite a few years away.