3D Food Printing
Let’s be honest: despite the happy picture above, 3D food printing is kind of a mixed bag.
The positives about food printing are the fact that it looks really cool and you can make beautiful designs. Also, food printers can make some recipes much more quickly than humans can. For instance, a BeeHex printer can print a pizza in under 2 minutes. Considering that the same pizza would take a human 9 minutes to make, that is an incredible achievement.
At the same time, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Except for a few specific use cases, 3D food printers are not the revolutionary kitchen appliance that will replace your microwave. They are not the Star Trek Replicator style machines that we have been waiting for since the middle of the 20th century.
Let’s talk about how how 3D food printing works and some of it’s downsides before we cover the cool stuff that you can do. It’s always nice to end on a high note.
How Does It Work?
There are essentially two types of 3D food printers. One type prints sugar on edible paper and is often used for decorating cakes or making little candy sugar shapes. The other type prints actual food products out of various ingredients pureed into pastes that you prepare yourself. They are still mostly limited to simple, flat foods like raviolis, crackers and cookies. But hey…. COOKIES!
Have you ever made baby food? You put a bunch of carrots in a blender and blend it into a pulp. Then you take that pulp and load it into a container for later use. That is basically what you have to do to use 3D food printers like the Foodini or byFlow.
The cool thing about this is that you can control the ingredients you print with and make sure that the printer only produces food that you want to eat. You can also make sure it tastes good. The one exception is Bocusini which sells refills of specific ingredients that you can order online through the Bocusini website.
The Downsides Of 3D Food Printing
One of the major limitations of having to fill canisters or syringes with pastes is that you still generate a lot of dishes that need cleaning after you are finished printing.
There are other limitations too. You can’t make anything very complicated, like Shepherd’s Pies or Tres Leches cakes. And we are worlds away from being able to load a bunch of ground beef into a chamber and pull out a brisket. In fact, you can’t even make a beer with one of these things yet! Not good.
The thing about the current generation of 3D food printers is that they aren’t very innovative. They are basically repurposed FDM printers that simply use pastes instead of filament. Most of them can only print with one material at a time. And they are not very appetizing to watch. No one is sitting next to these robotic excretion machines saying “Mommy! Print me another chocolate pudding!” Eww… No thanks.
OK, Here’s The Cool Part
Yes, there is a lot of room for improvement. But there are also a lot of recipes for 3D food printing that are really good already, like the pancake making PancakeBot, pictured on the left (Check it out on Amazon), and the Foodini, which can print out fresh ravioli in minutes that would otherwise take hours to prepare by hand. For many recipes like pasta and dumplings, 3D food printers will save you time and energy.
Other recipes include pizzas, chocolate, lasagna, quiches, burgers and of course: COOKIES. The chocolate printers are especially cool. Many objects that can be printed with a regular plastic filament 3d printer can be printed in chocolate (as long as the design has very little overhang and bridging). Can you say chocolate Darth Vader mask??
3D Food Printing Restaurant
But there are many awesome projects already on the 3D food printing industry menu. The latest flourish in molecular gastronomy is Food Ink. (foodink.io), a traveling pop-up restaurant that produces all of its food, furniture and dish-ware with 3D printers. Everything is produced on site for the current iteration of the restaurant. It is being billed as a taste of the future, and it certainly could be.
McDonalds and other fast food chains are also looking into automated 3D food printing as a cost cutting investment. After all, why hire workers at minimum wage to flip burgers when you can install a bunch of 3D food printers that will print burgers in half the time and half the cost?
Even the US Army is considering getting into the game. In the future, soldiers will probably where devices that monitor their nutritional needs. Combined with customizable 3D printed meals, the Army is hoping to be able to produce meals personalized to the nutritional needs of each soldier. That will help them recover faster and perform at optimal capacities.
More Coming Soon
Of course, as the field advances, the recipes and machines will improve. Check back here for more updates. And someday you will be able to print yourself a full thanksgiving meal in a Star Trek replicator-like machine. Until then, get yourself an extrusion food printer and make yourself some cookies!