However bizarre that may sound, one cannot help but wonder what is the future of food, when the present is fraught with an explosion of demand - due to a burgeoning population world over and supply side blockages that are unable to meet the spikes. Worldwide, one third of the total food produced for consumption, around 1.6 billion tons per year, goes to waste. Food waste happens during processing, distribution and consumption. As the world's population continues to grow, experts believe that current food supplies will not be able to supply the population. Thus, a sustainable food source is critical. In this light, it may sound like something from a sci-fi movie, but food making using '3D printers' actually does exist!
3D food printing is a very promising way of reducing food waste during the phase of consumption, by utilizing food products like meat off-cuts, distorted fruits and vegetables, sea food by-products and perishables. These products can be processed in a suitable form for printing. Food manufacturing companies are, afterall, faced with a constant dilemma of moving towards techniques that use food ingredients in the right manner, for making healthy and tasty food and in a way that reduces food wastage, to avoid a scarcity in future; but one that is also a scalable and cost-effective solution, to meet the desired end. A situation like this , needs to be handled with novel technologies, which can efficiently use food resources with no or very less amount of wastage. The global food industry is adopting 3D printing technology to make food production more efficient and increasingly sustainable. Upprinting Food, a Dutch startup, has been blending and combining different ingredients from food waste to create purees which are then used as materials for 3D printing. Chefs are also creating different dishes from leftover food using 3D food printers.
This drive to print edible material somewhat sprang out of necessity, from NASA’s desire to make more appetising options for astronauts, to businesspeople attempting to bring a quick meal to consumers. As humans begin venturing into space for a longer time, the nutritional requirements for maintaining crew health became critical. Currently NASA is exploring ways of integrating 3D printing food into space in order to sustain the crew's dietary requirements.The vision is to 3D print powdered food layers that have a shelf life of 30 years instead of using traditional freeze dried food that have a shelf life of 5 years. In addition to dietary requirements, 3D printing food in space could provide a morale boost, as the astronauts would be able to design custom meals that are aesthetically pleasing.
In September 2019, Russian cosmonauts, along with Israeli startup Aleph Farms, grew meat from cow cells, then 3D printed the cells into steaks!
It may surprise you to know that 3D printed food has been on the rise in the last few years, with edible 3D printing becoming increasingly popular, not only for professionals but also for personal use. 3D printing is a technique used for the manufacture of three-dimensional objects with high accuracy and quality finishing in their dimensions. The technique finds applications in industries, including aviation, automotive, packaging, construction, pharmaceuticals, and food. In the food sector, 3D printing is widely investigated across areas, such as customised food designs, personalised and digitalised nutrition, simplified supply chain, and broadened source of available food material. However, the realm of edible 3D printing has surpassed practicality and is becoming a muse for both pastry chefs and bakers, as they continue to test the limits of this technology in their industries.
That said, how does food 3D printing work? A 3D food printer comprises a food-grade syringe or cartridge that holds material, a real food item, and deposits exact fractional layers through a food-grade nozzle directly onto a plate or other surface in a layer-by-layer additive manner . Another method is a mould-based method wherein 3D printing food machines are used to give shapes to a dough with the help of a hollow container or moulding box . 3D printing requires hardware and software to work in collaboration. Advanced 3D food printers are equipped with user-friendly interfaces and pre-loaded recipes with designs that can be easily accessed by the computer. Most food 3D printers use extrusion 3D printing technology, much like regular desktop FDM 3D Printers. Instead of using plastic material, though, food 3D printers use paste-type ingredients. The most common ingredients are chocolate, pancake batter and cream; although there are many other possibilities , including pizza! They are 3D printed layer after layer, generally through a syringe-like extruder.
The above intricate, geometric cakes by Dinara Kasko are created through 3D printed moulds. They make the final products look like modern art installations rather than a sweet treat. She programs her designs to be printed into silicone moulds that help sculpt her cakes.
A recently-opened bakery in Columbus, Ohio, is making headlines with its nearly-no-touch cake and cookie decorating operation. Using 3D printing technology, 'Sugr-Bot' Bakery loads blank cakes and cookies into a machine that prints frosting and icing designs on the surface.
Through the technology, customers can choose their designs and flavours from a catalogue and order cakes or cookies online and have them made and delivered within two hours! An employee boxes the products, but everything else is done by machine! With its nearly touch-less operation, the service comes at an opportune time when consumers have coronavirus concerns and may have a reluctance to shop at foodservice establishments.
BeeHex has also been selling and leasing its machines to other businesses. The company began as a NASA project in 2012, aiming to develop a 3D food printer that would reconstitute powdered ingredients for space travel. BeeHex also has a program with the US Army making customized protein bars.
The brains behind the 3D Cake Creator Lankford’s vision , for the future of cake making, goes further. Instead of putting a cake together using 3D printed moulds, Lankford wants to directly print layers of cake using a delicious batter filament. Batter is one of the cheaper food filaments to work with, which makes 3D printing cakes an ideal industry to usher into the world.
The Australian restaurant D’Arenberg Cube boasts a fresh twist on classic lemon meringue pie. It’s the first restaurant in the country to utilize 3D printers in their kitchens. Their tangy treat is the only 3D printed cake on their menu due to the time-consuming nature of the process. Prepared 24 hours before the dinner service, all of the elements come directly from the printer to the plate and are served with pride.The head chef at the Cube, Brendan Wessels, believes that food 3D printers will play a prominent role in the restaurant business. The sheer amount of patronage the Cube receives proves that his theory isn’t far off!
The story of Sugar Lab resonates with that of ArtCAKEtect , on how we broke ground on the idea of our respective companies. For who knew we would be dappling in 3D technology down the road, as did they chance upon their candied 3D designs, which would soon revolutionise cake toppers into delectable desserts , as seen above. The creators, Kyle and Liz Von Hasseln, used sugar, candy bases, and chocolate with the ChefJet 3D printer, to create candied decorations which could be enjoyed on their own. The duo initially came up with the idea as a gift for a friend, where they created their first sugar topper. From a simple birthday present sprung a full-fledged company, and Sugar Lab was born! Sounds familiar?
The possibilities with sugar printing are practically endless. When the art of cake printing is perfected, its decorating counterpart is ready to spring into action and work side by side with it! Though most of these treats can only be purchased through restaurants and professionals, 3D printed cake-making may reach homes in the near future. Wouldn’t it be nice to have your cake and print it, too?
Currently, 3D food printers make use of nozzles, fine materials, lasers, and robotic arms. The raw material flows smoothly from the print cartridge to the printing platform and protects the solid build on the platform. In a similar fashion, substances such as starch and proteins, which can form hydrogel structures, can easily be obtained from cheese, chocolate, and humus that can easily flow from the printer cartridge to the platform. The 3D printed food consuming community favours a variety of culinary options, such as crystallized sugar cake, detailed chocolate designs, ready-to-bake pizzas and ravioli, and cracker-like yeast structures having seeds and spores, which can sprout over time. Multiple companies are offering 3D printing machines, such as Natural Machines, 3D systems, XYZ printing, NuFood, byFlow, Bocusini, Mmuse, etc. Such companies supply 3D printing food machines to core food manufacturers of chocolates, cakes, pizzas, etc.
An individual needs to consume a meal containing a precise set of ingredients and appropriate nutritional values, as is common knowledge. 3D printing is a ground-breaking technology that can improve the nutritional value of meals and even address hunger issues in countries where fresh and affordable ingredients are inaccessible. 3D printing usage comes with its own set of advantages:
Allows food customization according to the choice, as the 3D printer can help determine the exact quantity of vitamins, carbohydrates, and fatty acids as per the input and assess the correct percentage of nutrients for a particular age.
3D printing saves both time and energy when it comes to experimenting with different types of food dishes. It also helps in achieving perfection with less effort and less time.
The use of the food printing technique enforces innovation and creativity. Users can create dishes in entirely new ways by customizing ingredients. In addition, users of 3D printing can modify composition or amalgamate two products to produce an innovative dish.
Food reproducibility is possible using 3D printing. Using the same set of ingredients to produce a similar dish again eventually drives the minimization of food waste. Additionally, it allows the sustainable usage of materials, such as duckweed, grass, insects, or algae, which can be used to form the basis of familiar dishes.
Unlike traditionally prepared food, the variety of food that can be manufactured using 3D printing is limited by the physical characteristics of the materials. Food materials are generally much softer than the weakest plastic used in 3D printing, making the printed structures very fragile.
Food safety is a significant concern. 3D printing process develops food in minimal time, which eventually restricts cooking food at certain temperatures or may result in fluctuating temperatures due to which microbes can grow and contaminate the food. Hence, to avoid contamination-related issues, manufacturers are required to follow certain standard practices and guidelines while processing the food.
When 3D printing food, the safety is very crucial. A food printer must ensure safety along the entire path taken by the food material.Due to the possibility of food getting stuck somewhere along the path, bacteria accumulation is a major concern. Microbial stability is a crucial parameter of the quality of the printed food, thus it needs to be addressed both during the design of the printer and during the printing process.On the other hand, the materials that come into contact with the food may not be as significant of a concern since high quality printers use stainless steel and BPA-free materials.
Food manufacturers cannot use all ingredients that are used at the time of conventional cooking. Every ingredient has its storage and cooking requirements, such as an optimum temperature, which needs to be met. All ingredients cannot be placed together in one container, along with the main component or dough, when manufacturing food via 3D printing
The color, flavor and texture of food are of crucial importance when fabricating an edible product, thus in most cases it is required that a food printer supports multi-material printing. The current available 3D food printers are limited to using a few different materials due to the challenge of developing multiple extruder capabilities. This limits the variety of food products that can be 3D printed, leaving out complex dishes that require a lot of different materials.
The use of a 3D printing machine requires skilled personnel. Appropriate training is offered to individuals on how to use a 3D printer for food manufacturing, which results in high-cost investment. The use of skilled labor and high cost of 3D printing machines exerts a burden on the manufacturer.
The current speed of 3D printing food could be sufficient for home use, but the process is very slow for mass production.Simple designs take 1 to 2 minutes, detailed designs take 3 to 7 minutes, and more intricate designs take even longer.
Existing food products in the market such as chocolates in various shapes could easily be scanned and the obtained 3D models could be used to replicate those products. These 3D models could then be disseminated via Internet leading to copyright infringement. There are laws regulating copyright issues but it is not clear whether they will be sufficient to cover all aspects of a field like 3D food printing.
While there are companies still exploring the idea of technology potential, there are powerhouse brands, such as PepsiCo and Hershey, continuously using 3D printing. While PepsiCo uses 3D printing to create a plastic prototype of different shaped and coloured potato chips, Hershey’s scientists use 3D printing for uniquely designed candy. Oreo has used 3D printing to create cookies with customized creme patterns and flavours.
Barilla, an Italy-based pasta manufacturer, collaborated with TNO, a Dutch scientific research firm, to develop a 3D printer capable of printing a variety of differently shaped pasta, allowing customers to 3D print their CAD files with different pasta designs quickly and easily.
Recently, a Zurich-based leading manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa products, Barry Callebaut Group, announced the launch of the world’s first 3D printing studio to make personalized 3D printed chocolate at a large scale. It launched its chocolate creations through its global decoration brand, Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa teamed up with one of the most creative pastry chefs, Jordi Roca, to help him create ‘Flor de Cacao,’ a unique 3D piece made out of chocolate. It represents a cocoa bean that opens up like a cacao flower through contact with hot chocolate sauce.
To conclude, 3D printing technology is the future of food . It offers new possibilities, such as personalized nutrition, automated cooking, reduction in food wastage, etc. This 3D printing technology in the food industry can fulfil the unmet needs in terms of personalized nutrition, food wastage, demand, and availability of food. It is an evolving technology that has a large number of benefits, such as saving time, highly efficient, sustainability, and many more.
Globally, there are a variety of prototype printers available for food production. 3D printing will continue to evolve as an exceptional technology in the food industry; however, high adoption will likely come from companies focused on product innovations and/or direct-to-consumer strategies.