3D Printers for Food

March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

A device that uses purée as if it were ink will transform the way we cook

The idea of printing tonight’s dinner might sound a bit far fetched, but not too long ago people sniggered about the prospect of microwave ovens.

Jayden Yosefzai, the chief executive of Essential Dynamics, which has manufactured Imagine, one of the first commercially available 3-D food printers, explains:

“Imagine’s track path will be novelty, then utility, then indispensability.” Printers will start appearing in kitchens once people have accepted the technology and recognised its capabilities , he says.

3-D food printing uses purée instead of ink to sculpt food. A host of university researchers have developed prototypes: MIT’s Digital Fabricator concept, for instance, takes refrigerated ingredients and pipes them “into a mixer and extruder head that can accurately deposit elaborate food combinations with sub-millimeter precision. While the deposition takes place, the food is heated or cooled.”

Cornell Creative Machines Lab has worked with the French Culinary Institute to print a space shuttle-shaped scallop, a raw turkey cube with inner celery cube , an “easy cheesy shuttle” and personalised cookies and cakes. Meanwhile, the University of Exeter has concentrated on the creation of personalised sculpted chocolates.

Despite these impressive results, the field of 3-D food printing still conjures images of white coats rather than aprons. Imagine wouldn’t look out of place on a laboratory bench, and with a price tag of $2,995 (£1,894) is beyond most budgets. Or perhaps it is more a case that the term “3-D printing” doesn’t sound very appetising.

Stefano Marzano, the former chief design officer at Philips and new chief design officer at Electrolux ( both companies that have looked at potential designs for 3-D food printers), says: “Forget the mental image of 3-D printing and think about the freedom and liberty of creating new and fantastic shapes and tastes.”

Marzano believes that two forces will be instrumental in propelling the printers from the laboratory bench to the kitchen counter.

“It will be demand-led, starting in the professional arena with chefs wanting the opportunity to break the boundaries of food experimentation and the food industry wanting to create new shapes and accurately reproduce recipes.

“And if demand grows sufficiently, the printers could be a reality in kitchens within five years. The technology is there and can be developed fast if there is the demand.”

Researchers, cooks and designers have devised some tasty applications for 3-D printing should consumers develop a taste for it.

Imagine being able to recreate your favourite chef’s experimental recipes safe in the knowledge that it will look and taste exactly as prescribed.

Imagine creating personalised dishes for friends or, in one vision, adjusting the nutritional value of your food based on electronic inputs from sensors that measure individual needs.

“Chefs create sublime food that is engaging to all the senses. 3-D printing is an opportunity to stretch this art and create forms otherwise not seen,” Manzano says. “It should be seen not as a machine, but more as a palette for the painter.”

What could be more beautiful?

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