A new research paper predicts widespread use of 3D printers in kitchens to prepare food.
Food printing has been around for quite a while, and I recall seeing different types of food printers at least ten years ago. There have been machines that extrude paste, fuse sugar granules and deposit chocolate, but none have really caught on.
The paper suggests there are multiple issues in adoption of the technology that have prevented its use by consumers. That’s certainly true, and those issues include:
- “Alienness” of 3D printed food
- Speed of printing
- Difficulty in acquiring food 3D printers
- Food printers that lack function (e.g. cooking as well as extruding)
- Almost complete lack of food recipe repositories
- Lack of software dedicated to food 3D design
- And more
Nevertheless, the paper’s authors believe there is a bright future for the technology. They suggest that it should be possible to produce a kind of “mini food manufacturing plant” for kitchens by combining technologies. In particular, they assert that laser cooking methods could be incorporated into systems, and these could use sophisticated software to “perfectly” cook food.
They also suggest that these kitchen systems could be used to prepare more interesting dishes using local ingredients, thus avoiding the dietary harmful highly processed foods of today. Many of those foods are primarily designed for transport and longevity, rather than taste and nutrient value, and that has spoiled diets for almost everyone.
”Issues surrounding cost may affect consumers’ willingness to adopt 3D printers as a food preparation technique. Although 3D printers can be built to take up much less room in a kitchen—which is advantageous—the cost of purchasing one may be prohibitively high during early adoption. Companies may need to employ a “razor and blades” business model51 similar to that of Gillette and Nespresso where the printer would be sold at a low price and the reoccurring revenue stream would come from the purchase or subscription of food cartridges and recipe files. Another consideration may be how and at what temperature the food inks need to be stored. Limited cooking space and integration with other appliances can be a concern for many people, especially where space is paramount in more affluent city environments.”
As an experiment, the researchers attempted to develop a tasty dessert using only software. They created a cheesecake that was entirely produced by machine and software. However, their development process required multiple iterations to overcome a variety of problems, many of which turned out to be structural. For example, they had to add Graham Cracker crumbs to solidify certain layers of the cheesecake.
In the image at top you can see a 3D deconstruction of the cheesecake. They don’t say in the paper how the cheesecake tasted, but they do explain some rather intriguing possibilities for food design:
“In this print, we recreated a familiar looking slice of cake, but it didn’t need to be ordinary-looking. Controlling the extrusion path gives us the ability to create unique lattice structures and interwoven ingredient combinations that are otherwise impossible to recreate using conventional extrusion or molding methods. Slightly more limiting than printing with plastic or metal, however, the complexity of deposited food ingredients is only limited by the rheology of the printed ingredients.”
Where will this eventually lead? They provide this prediction:
“We foresee a business ecosystem funded by printers, print cartridges, and digital recipes that creates a sustainable revenue stream for equipment manufacturers, food suppliers, and digital recipe developer ‘food artists’ catering for a variety of convenience, nutrition, and cost preferences.”
I encourage you to read this paper, as it is written in a very easy-to-follow fashion, unlike most scientific papers. It’s full of interesting information about food 3D printing and where it may be headed.
I have long thought widespread use of food printers would eventually come to pass, and it’s surprising it has taken this long. It seems to me that all of the elements are now present for entrepreneurs to assemble into a workable system.
Who is down for that project?