3D printed food: fascinating or freakish?

Amanda Goh tells of producing your own chocolate sculpture

Amanda Goh
16th March 2020
This new way of food printing enables one to make dishes from different pastes and materials. There has been increased use of these 3D food printers making different foods from chocolate to pasta.

3D printed food is a method of preparing food in an automated additive manner. Most 3D food printers are deposition printers, in which they deposit layers of raw material. Dishes are extruded line-by-line. Instead of printing with plastics, 3D printers deploy edible ingredients squeezed out of stainless steel capsules. This way of object printing started from making a sugar paste. With the development of technology, it has improved the process, enabling printers to make other foods. 3D printers are able to create complex shapes which are difficult to achieve with traditional methods. However it is produced, 3D printed food is safe for human consumption.

There has been many new kinds of 3D food printers, from one crystallising thin layers of sugar into geometric configurations, to another that dispenses chocolate in melty patterns. Herve Malivert, director of food technology and culinary coordinator at the International Culinary Center, stated that "with a 3D printer, you can print complicated chocolate sculptures and beautiful pieces for decoration... not everybody can do that... a printer makes it easier," he told Digital Trends

As the global population is predicted to grow to more than 9 billion people by 2050, and food production may need to be raised by half, it seems that 3D printers could be sustainable. While these printers may not solve food shortage in the long term, it could contribute to more sustainability. Furthermore, Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research in Germany has developed a printing method for micro algae, which is a natural source of protein as well as carbohydrates and antioxidants.

Lynette Kucsma, co-founder of Natural Machines, stated that there is a concept of "ugly" fruits, vegetables, meats and fish that people will not eat because they look 'unconventional'. This would mean they do not pass quality control and get thrown away despite it being good produce. With 3D printing, it could reproduce these 'ugly' foods, reducing food wastage. 3D printers could also reduce food wastage. These machines are able to reprocess food such as cuts of fish into more appealing shapes. "I think we're going to have a lot of different things coming together to make sustainability work, but i do think 3D printing will be a big part of that" Kucsma stated.

While the term '3D printing' may still seem futuristic, it is edging towards mainstream use. The National Farmers' Union had suggested that developments in 3D printing may have potential to change the way chemicals are used. Just like any new technology, these 3D food printers just take some getting used to. "When people first heard about microwaves they didn't understand the technology... now 90% of households have microwaves," Kucsma said. Who knows, maybe in a few years you could be 3D printing your own food.

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