3D printing, a technology long priced beyond the average consumers reach, are quickly becoming so highly accessible that companies are trying to 3D print all kinds of new things, including food! It’s like a replication of Star Trek and many other science fiction movies that prep, cook, and serve meals on command this could actually be our future. 3D food printing has the potential to revolutionize food production by encouraging culinary creativity, food sustainability, and the ability design menus to fit specific dietary needs, however it will still face technical and market challenges in years to come. The main challenge is speed. Some devices can fabricate a mind-boggling number of objects in minutes; but that level of advancement has yet to trickle down to food printers.
The most common designs using a 3D food printer requires successive layers of ingredients that need cooling, leading to exceedingly long wait times for some foods. Many food printers have chocolate, dough, and sugar nailed, but more complicated products like meat are a little tougher to master. Printing in food materials is a lot more difficult from an engineering point of view than plastic and metals; the food materials interact with each other in very complex ways.
That is not to say, however, that producing them isn’t feasible.
A company in New York, raised $10 million in funding to research the production of printable biomaterials, but achieving the right texture and flavor is a lot harder. Even if scientists are able to closely replicate natural beef, consumers might not bite. There’s also the issue of high expectations. The Star Trek replicator comes to mind when many think about food synthesizers, but such a device would hardly be practical. A simple vegetable, like a tomato, would likely require tens of millions of different ingredient cartridges alone. Perhaps like any new technology, however, 3D food printers just take some getting used to.
Most 3D printers work by slowly depositing layers of edible material, one on top of the other, until an object is constructed. The process is called “additive manufacturing,” and it uses deposition printers. Other printers bind layers together with adhesive, which is called referred to as a binding printer. On the opposite end of the gastronomic spectrum, 3D food printers are beginning to breach gourmet spaces. Some experts believe food printers could minimize waste by using cartridges of hydrocolloids, which is a substance that turns into a gel when mixed with water. Those same machines may also be used to create unpalatable but plentiful ingredients (i.e., algae, duckweed, and grass) to form the base of familiar dishes.
3D food printers could be used to make the undesirable foods more desirable. Consider a food source that’s not something you’d want to eat in its raw form but a good source of protein, like an insect. People tend have a very deep, visceral reaction to foods they don’t recognize, and 3D food printers could be used to make these foods more appealing. Having the ability to do this guarantees an interesting advantage — making something that looks and tastes good from something that doesn’t.
When people first heard about microwaves they didn’t understand the technology, now 90% of households have a microwave. 3D food printers may not currently produce great-tasting food, be able to cook meals from scratch, or have the whole-hearted endorsement of the “foodie” elite; however, at Gourmet Services we are hoping they get better by the year to fulfill their promise to produce sustainable, nutritional perfection, which will be well worth the pursuit.