You can’t make a three-course dinner out of 3D printed food. At least yet. We take a closer look at facts and myths about food 3D printing.
Product designers and engineers have been using 3D printing technology for years but it’s still a novelty for many makers and artists who discovered the technology after it became desktop-size and more affordable. Culinary chefs and the food industry are another groups eager to utilize 3D printing in their works.
Food 3D printing started with simple cake toppings, candies, and artistic oddities but slowly develops into so much more, and almost every 3D printer owner can join this party.
Sweet applications of 3D printed food
Experiments made by 3D Systems show a bright future for food 3D printing in confectionary. They created a series of amazing cake toppings which couldn’t be made without this technology. These also led to the creation of Chef Jet machine able to 3D print with sugar and is fully certified for food production. Ability to customize products could become one of the biggest advantages of food 3D printing, although so far not many pastry chefs were able to utilize it on a bigger scale. At least yet.
Food industry giants are already setting an example of how food 3D printing can be implemented and utilized in various stages of product development and food production. British company Cadbury is using custom-made 3D printers for creating molds and prototypes of new sweets that often wouldn’t be possible to manufacture without a complex production line in place. This way they managed to quicken the product development process and lower the costs of inventing and introducing new products to the market.
Not only sweets
Italian company Barilla proves that food 3D printing is not only about sweets. Together with Dutch research institute TNO, the company is working on an innovative pasta 3D printer able to produce little pieces of art from a durum wheat flour that couldn’t be mass produced with traditional methods. This implementation already presents a huge customization potential. In the near future, we should be able to design and order custom pasta for weddings or for our restaurant.
TNO institute already completed a handful of successful food 3D printing projects that can ultimately change how some foods are being manufactured. One of the best examples is 3D printed carrot made for retirement homes in Germany.
Carrots are hard to chew and swallow for elderly people and their puree version doesn’t look too appetizing. TNO engineers mashed the vegetables, added a gelling agent and 3D printed them looking like the real deal. They were able to do it with peas and broccoli too. It’s one of the most thoughtful and practical applications of food 3D printing so far!
Build it yourself
Food 3D printing usually requires melting or mashing the ingredients to create a paste that can be extruded by a machine. This is still a big limitation but paste extrusion is the most common and easiest method to start with.
Many people build their own 3D printer based on open source designs. The 3drag chocolate extruder is a perfect example of such solution for food 3D printing. It’s designed specifically for chocolate extrusion which actually is one of the hardest pastes to work with.
3DigitalCooks who designed an open source Pinya3 food 3D printer recommend starting with materials like mashed potatoes, hummus, pumpkin puree, and icing. Cookie doughs is also a good fit for food 3D printing, although it’s quite thick and requires stronger extruder.
Ready-to-use food 3D printers
If you’re not a maker, then consider buying an out-of-the-box machine for food 3D printing. One of the basic and simplest one to use is PancakeBot which allows, well, printing pancakes. The machine is very easy to use and certified for food production. You can be sure that every creation you make will be both pretty and edible, which is never guaranteed when you use a self-made machine.
Not everybody needs to build or buy an entire machine just for food 3D printing. Some multitool 3D printers offer thick paste extruders that can be used for it too. ZMorph is one of such devices enabling 3D printing with thick pastes and chocolate.
Chinese company Beets performed several very successful experiments with food using ZMorph multitool 3D printer. Aside from chocolate sweets and cookies, they were able to make jelly animals and figurines from a Philadelphia cream cheese.
Like with all food 3D printing, people from Beets had to invent their own materials. Food is not like plastic filaments and there’s never one perfect recipe for it. For example for creating chocolate sweets they had better results with chocolate mousse than with pure melted chocolate.
Legal aspect to consider
It’s very important to remember, that most 3D printers are not certified for food production. Some edible prints may even be dangerous for your health! In some countries, it’s also illegal to produce food this way, especially when you share or sell it to others. This is why most of the practical applications of 3D printing so far are still experimental or artistic.
Future of food 3D printing
Thanks to 3D printing, chefs, and food manufacturers can soon be able to prepare food in shapes, textures and forms previously unachievable while still keeping them tasty. There’s already several machines like ZMorph multitool 3D printer and open source projects available for people who want to start printing with edible thick pastes. Also, the big companies, like Cadbury and Barilla, are already working on utilizing the technology in their business.
Even though food 3D printing still has many limitations and often lack proper certificates, it has so much potential that even NASA is testing this technology in order to use it in space. It’s a very bold vision, but some already claim that some day everybody will have their own food 3D printer in the kitchen.