Will 3D printing provide the food of the future?

Photo: Windell Oskay, Flickr creative commons.

Photo: Windell Oskay, Flickr creative commons.

Microwaves, when first invented, were highly criticized. Now they can be found in every household. Three dimensional printers are the new innovation in the food industry, just like the microwave once was.

Printers are being developed to do just about anything when it comes to food, creating edible tangible foods from a piece of candy to a hamburger. 3D printers may be on the forefront for a solution to the global food crisis. Eating freshly printed food sounds unappetizing and very unhealthy, removing us from the ever-growing popular trend of eating organic and GMO free food, and moving us back to the chemically filled plastic textured food. However, this seems not to be the case for the 3D printers of today.

There are a few different 3D food printers making waves, some have the ability to print a variety of foods and others are specific to one item. The process of printing food begins with the preparation of a 3D model that is administered by a piece of software called a slicer. The model is then converted into many thin layers and has coded instructions custom made to a specific printer.  

The ink is comprised of ingredients required for the item being printed. For example, the ‘ink’ ChefJet used to print candy is a combination of water and sugar. The printer reads the coded instructions and the materials to build the cross-sectional model. The sections are printed layer-by-layer and joined automatically, building the item from the bottom up to create a final shape. Once the food is ready, depending on the item printed, it can either be consumed raw or needs to be cooked.

Foodini, advertised as a new generation in kitchen appliances with a purpose of eliminating prep time in the kitchen, provides fresh raw items with ingredients you prepare. Making a pizza, ravioli, or spinach quiche dinosaurs, individuals can feel comfortable knowing the food meets dietary needs with natural ingredients. This 3D printer seems far from the plastic textured chemical type of food you would expect to eat from a printer.

Companies are also working at making paste like textures for use in 3D printers. Modern Meadows is attempting to solve the cattle crisis and reduce the environmental and ethical issues associated with eating meat by using tissue engineering to print cultured stem cells products that resemble actual field-to-freezer meat. Developing cultured meat is far from feasible, but as the technology advances in the next 10 years, I just might be getting my burgers from printers!

But once the fascination with these printers wears off, what is their benefit aside from providing us with interesting shaped foods? Do these printers have the ability to eliminate world hunger? As they stand today, 3D printed meals are impressive and may be as common as a microwave one day. However, this new technology does not seem to focus around eradicating world hunger just yet.