3D Printed Food to Go

Hod Lipson, Ph.D, professor of engineering at Columbia and co-author of the book Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing, said at the recent Institute of Food Technologists symposium in Chicago, “No matter what field you are in, this technology will worm its way in,” and went on to add, “Food printing could be the killer app for 3D Printing.”

As 3D printers continue to drop in price, there are those that suggest it won’t be long before each kitchen has one, alongside a stove, dishwasher and microwave. The advantages being touted about include meal preparation time reductions, faster delivery of foodstuffs to consumers, and being able to easily substitute ingredients or add nutrients to any meal.

And, while in the past 3D printed sustenance may have come to the aid of astronauts suffering, somewhat ironically, from a lack of space, the US military have been researching its potential use in battlefield applications.

First, though, a Spanish company called Natural Machine is hoping to launch its new Foodini printer by the end of 2015. Expected to cost around £1000, the appliance is intended to allow home users to print out either one type of food, or fill capsules with various ingredients and print out relatively complex dishes, according to a web-based recipe. Of course, different ingredients can be substituted in order to tailor each end product to the consumers requirements.

Barilla, the Italian pasta and sauce producer, recognising that the difference in feel between, say, spaghetti and tagliatelle is an important part of their customers’ eating experience, has been developing a device to design even more inventive shapes that aren’t so easy to create using more traditional practices.

In the meantime, Mary Scerra, a food technologist at the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Centre in Massachusettes, thinks that 3D printed food could be feeding soldiers under fire by 2025, eliminating the need for camp kitchens and issued rations in favour of meals customised by the individual’s taste, made nutrient-rich, and tailored to meet each fighting man’s needs of the moment.

Scerra says to picture a squad of soldiers in a remote area, “… one has muscle fatigue, one has been awake for a long period without rest, one lacks calories, one needs electrolytes, and one just wants a pizza. Wouldn’t it be interesting if they could just print and eat?”

Scerra goes on to say that there are many logistical hurdles to overcome: The cost of reaching these remote battlegrounds with the right technology; getting the tech to work in distant regions; and, not least making the food taste good. “If the meals aren’t palatable, they won’t be consumed. It doesn’t matter how nutritious they are.”

Which leads to another point. There are thoughts about these home printers using worm meat to produce high protein biscuits, which could be the answer to world hunger. The next 35 years is going to see an increase in the world’s population of about 2 billion extra people, meaning that today’s sources of protein will soon be inadequate. This will force us to look to worms, insects, and algae as alternative foodstuffs. The advantage here is that 3D printers may be the way to make these unusual ingredients appealing enough for the world to actually eat.

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