How Soon Could 3D-Printed Foods Become Common?
You are a business executive, and your company has booked a first class three-hour flight for you to attend a business meeting. Soon after you are seated, the flight attendant brings you hors d’oeuvres of tasty scrumptious snacks made from various types of meat, fruit and vegetables, together with various types of dips and some wine. Because you have no special dietary requirements, you feast on the edibles and ask for more.
Please, ma’am, what are these appetizers made of? They are absolutely delicious.
Sir, you just enjoyed a serving of 3D-printed appetizers that include fruit, vegetables, chicken, beef, fish, lobsters, frogs, snails, insects and mushrooms.
What? Am I now expected to eat bugs and frogs? Heck, I could soon be eating 3D-printed snake, horse or cat food.
This sounds like an amusing story that should not be taken seriously. All joking aside, the fact is that we are entering an age in which 3D printed foods could quickly invade the realm of traditional food preparation.
In make-believe scenes from science fiction movies such as Star Trek, a crew member could walk up to a computer in the food court, vocally order a meal, and have the meal delivered in a few minutes. These scenes were entertaining and utopian. However, these make-believe scenes could quickly become reality.
This article discusses how quickly 3D-printed foods are becoming an integral part of meal preparation. Topics that may be of interest are the following:
- How much progress has 3D printing made in food preparation?
- What benefits could 3D printed foods provide?
- Could 3D printed foods displace traditionally prepared food?
How Much Progress Has 3D Printing Made In Food Preparation?
The following list, although brief, highlights 3D printed food items that are available today:
- A typical hamburger, except for lettuce and tomato.
- Pizza, ravioli and many bakery products.
- Fruit items for people with chewing and swallowing difficulty.
- Confectionery such as chocolate, toffee and similar products.
Beyond food preparation, 3D printing offers packaging for foods and beverages that are indistinguishable from traditional packaging.
How Much Progress Has 3D Printing Made In Food Preparation?
Many companies are getting involved in bringing 3D printed foods to the consumer market.
For the sake of illustration, this article features the Foodini® 3D printer offered by the company Natural Machines®, and some of its capabilities for food preparation.
- The printer allows the consumer to supply fresh food ingredients, and the machine does the rest. The machine avoids the use of additives, preservatives and unbalanced amounts of sugar and salt.
- Food capsules are made of stainless steel and they are reusable. The food capsule is not integral with printing nozzles, in order to avoid bacterial growth.
- The recipe for food preparation can be tailored by the customer.
- The 3D printer targets both home and professional customers.
- The printer can be connected to the internet, and it features a touch screen user interface that provides recipes to choose from. Communication with the printer can happen with a laptop, tablet, a smartphone or a similar device.
- Thus far, the printer features over 30 recipes that include different forms of confectionery, bakery, dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables.
What Benefits Could 3D Printed Foods Provide?
The following benefits make a compelling argument for accepting 3D printed foods.
- The need for packaged foods that contain additives, preservatives and unbalanced amounts of sugar and salt can be reduced by using 3D printed foods.
- Fresh, more nutritious meals can be prepared in much shorter time with 3D printers than by traditional or commercial methods.
- Because 3D printers can be connected to the internet, food can be prepared by issuing remote commands.
- 3D printed foods can be shaped into forms that are aesthetically pleasing.
- Old people and people struggling with cerebral palsy or stroke who have difficulty with chewing and swallowing, will have access to a large variety of 3D printed foods.
- Instead of relying solely on freeze-dried foods in space, astronauts will have access to 3D printed foods.
- As the cost of 3D printing continues to come down, individual families and institutions such as schools, hospitals, the military and similar institutions will be able to provide large scale nutritious and cost effective meals at reduced cost.
- The burden of cooking for a large family will be eased by utilizing both 3D-printed foods and traditional cooking.
However, there are obstacles to overcome before 3D printed foods become common.
- Because food is printed in layers, it will take clever engineering to make printed food look and feel like traditionally prepared food.
- Cleaning of the printer should be easy and efficient. Food particles should not migrate to parts of the printer where decay and bacterial growth would happen.
- It will be a challenge for 3D printed food to match the texture and taste of traditionally prepared food.
Could 3D Printed Foods Displace Traditionally Prepared Food?
It is highly doubtful that 3D-printed food can displace traditionally prepared food, because it is unlikely that 3D-printed food can match the culinary abilities of a skilled chef or a housewife. For this reason alone, even if 3D printers offer foods that are almost indistinguishable from traditionally prepared foods, there will be initial resistance to accepting 3D printed food.
History indicates that most people resist change, as evidenced by the initial resistance toward adopting microwave cooking. Nevertheless, acceptance of 3D printed foods appears to be well underway.
There are many reasons why acceptance of 3D printed foods could accelerate.
- Commercially, many restaurants may begin to deliver meals much sooner after they are ordered, because restaurants may adopt hybrid cooking that includes both 3D-printing and traditional methods. Because 3D printing reduces the cost of delivering meals, both restaurants and customers will benefit from the savings in cost.
- Likewise, individuals will be able to print a large variety of fresh, nutritious meals instead of relying on packaged foods that contain additives, preservatives and other chemicals.
Although 3D printed foods cannot replace traditional cooking, 3D printed foods will significantly impact traditional food preparation. It is likely that hybrid cooking that includes both 3D printing and traditional cooking will emerge. The rate at which this change could occur remains to be seen.