Have you ever thought of having printed food? Sounds weird? But yes, it is the future of culinary and food. 3D printing also known as “Additive manufacturing” is the process of converting digital file into a three-dimensional solid object. It is created by layering down successive materials through food grade nozzles until the end product is formed. Though 3D printing has a lot of applications in the real world however the most delicious and interesting out of them is creating food.
What is 3D food printing?
3D food printing is a digital process with robotics involved which produces the food by depositing layer by layer through food grade syringes as instructed. It uses syringe like mechanism which works similar to an extruder and deposits the layer of pasty and viscous material on the plate which is then processed for obtaining the end product.
Factors affecting 3D printing mechanism
Food printing is a complex mechanism which focuses on three general areas in order to be precise, safe and accurate. Material/Ingredient to be used (viscosity, size of the particle etc.), process/methodology and post processing methods are the major factors affecting the texture and end product of the printed food.
- Material/Ingredient:- Generally, soft materials like puree, cheese, frostings or jelly like substance is used in order to obtain a perfect shape for the end product. Substances like these are flowable enough to come out from a syringe and have high end viscosity so that it can retain its shape. Powdered substances are seldom added to the paste/mixture to obtain the desired viscosity and make the material soft enough to be syringed out. Moreover, solid substances can be converted into a paste like structure by heating or melting as done in case of chocolate printing.
- Methodology/Process:- Diameter of the nozzle, Size of the plate, printing speed, distance of the nozzle are few process parameters which need to be taken care of before printing the food on the table. Moreover, a lot of different procedures are followed based on the end product and the material to be printed including extrusion based printing, selective laser sintering, binder jetting and inkjet printing.
- Post processing methods:- It is the most crucial factor as the printed food is processed further to make it safe for consumption. Baking, frying or cooking are some post processing techniques which might harm the shape and integrity of the printed food and hence binder and additives like hydrocolloids are added to the printed food before processing further.
Now as we know the basics of printed food, the question which illuminates in our mind must be
Why 3D printed food?
You might be wondering the need of 3D printed food if we still can buy our food from a supermarket. Here are some perks of 3D printed food:-
- Myriad of applications: – From space food to miniature food, 3D printing have vast application all around the food industry.
- Flexibility: – With the help of 3D printed food, one can produce a food of any size, in any shape and that too with the ingredients and nutrients of their choice. Just feed the information in the system, and 3D printer will make the food of your choice.
- Sustainability: – Food printing is way more sustainable as it prevents food wastage and is environment friendly. It also helps in recycling the food waste by producing an altogether new dish from the scratch.
- Precise: – 3D printed food can be made very precisely with all the necessary detailing which a human hand can never achieve.
- Personalised Nutritional value: – It is very easy to produce the food with correct nutritional value for every individual. Just give the input and perfect plate with perfect amount of nutrition will be on your table.
Future of 3D printed food
3D printed food started with the idea of producing food for astronauts by NASA which is still prevalent for the purpose. Making food more appealing and easy to produce with the extended shelf life can be a promising application for the 3D food printers.
3D food printers can be helpful to produce the miniature food with intricate detailing which is almost an impossible task to do with human hands. By this application, one can easily imagine a complex plate with miniature dishes served in a restaurant.
Printing food can also be helpful in maintaining sustainability in the near future and producing nutritious food for the people. One can produce the food as per their necessity of the shape, size and nutrition. Solid food can also be converted to liquid food as per the requirement of the consumer.
Moreover, the most promising application as per environmental view can be converting the food wastage in a useable form which can be consumed.
The idea of 3D printed food may seem interesting and worth trying, however, still the technology lacks some characteristics. Let us look at some of the challenges which might be faced in this technology:-
- Necessity of post processing: – It is necessary for certain food items to be processed or cooked for consumption after it is fabricated through 3D printers which might increase the processing time and can damage the product.
- Texture: – Rough and grainy texture of processed food is a major drawback in the 3D printed food.
- Initial Cost:- Being a novel technology, the machinery used is costly which enhances the initial expenditure for setting it up.
- Needs Specialisation:- Being a complicated machinery, it needs specialisation for its operations
- Counterfeiting: – If a blueprint is available for the food fabrication, the patents can be copied easily.
Though food printing is the future of our cuisine, still a lot needs to be explored for this novel and promising technology. So, tighten your seat belts, learn more and make this one of the flawless way to manufacture food in a sustainable and effective manner.
Interested in learning about 3D Food Printing? Check out our article on how Redefine Meat has discovered a way to 3D print steak.