Trend Alert: 3D Printed Food

CATEGORY / Food & Beverage TAGS / 3d printed food, 3d printing, food trend, trend alert Fractals LAB / Gourmand DATE / October 1, 2015

3D food printing has  the potential to revolutionize food production by boosting culinary creativity and food sustainability. It can be healthy and good for the environment because it helps to convert alternative ingredients such as proteins from algae, beet leaves, or insects into tasty products, and it also opens the door to food customization.


Hod Lipson, director of Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab, laid out the three dominant methods of printing food at the 2015 Inside 3D Printing conference in New York City, which are nozzles, powdery material, and lasers. Many systems mix and match those approaches. The 3D Systems ChefJet crystalizes thin layers of fine-grain sugar into virtually any geometric configuration, while Natural Foods’ Choc Edge dispenses chocolate from syringes in beautiful, melty patterns. The Foodini uses fresh ingredients loaded into stainless steel capsules to prepare a surprisingly wide array of dishes.


There are still many technical and market barriers to a massive 3d food printers adoption. The most common designs require long wait times, and printing in food materials is a lot more difficult from an engineering point of view than plastic of metals, because they interact with each other in very complex ways.  What’s more, 3D food printers are still generally expensive. 

Last but not least, many consumers might not be ready to try such a “weird” food: in a survey by, only 34 percent of respondents said they’d even try 3D-printed meat. But perhaps, like any new technology, it’s just a matter of time. “When people first heard about microwaves they didn’t understand the technology,” Lynette Kucsama, Chief Marketing Officer at Natural Machines told Fortune. “Now 90 percent of households have microwaves.”


Anyway, the technical difficulties aren’t stopping early adopters.

Some German nursing homes serve a 3D-printed food product called Smoothfoods to elderly residents who have difficulty chewing. Purees, the conventional alternative, typically aren’t very appetizing, which sometimes leads to under eating. The tastier Smoothfoods, made of mashed carrots, peas, and broccoli, which 3D printers congealed with an edible glue,  are already a hit; 1,000 of the country’s facilities now serve them daily.

A group of students from the Zhejiang University recently 3D printed one of Chinas’s most prominent delicacies, the mooncake: a sweet cookie-like bakery product most popularly consumed at the Mid-Autumn Festival.Their mooncake can be purchased by the public at an inexpensive price, offering two, four, and six-packs of the cookies to residents preparing for the upcoming festivities.

3D printed food is also being used in an unconventional and funny ways in relation to upcoming 2016 US election. A kickstarter project started by the Chicago-based Funproductive has created the Boneheads 2016 dog biscuit, treats that are modeled, using 3D printed molds, after the heads of this year’s most controversial presidential candidates. The biscuits are produced with whole wheat flour, butter, dry non-milk, egg, coconut flour, and peanut butter, creating an all-natural molded treat. 



And 3D food printers are also beginning to breach gourmet spaces! Althought it’s mainly used for confectionary items and treats, some luxury restaurants are starting to add 3D printed food to their menus.

At the 3D Printshow 2015 in London Michelin-starred Chef Mateo Blanch from La Boscana, Spain created the first 3D printed, 5-course meal. The lunch and dinner menu included a starter snack of caviar cookies with lemon and strawberries, followed by hummus and a dish of guacamole. The main course consists of a choice between a Framed octopus (a dish of octopus with potatoes as the frame) and a Caprese pasta with basilicum and pesto. As for dessert, there was a Carpaccio Target (a strawberry and jelly carpaccio), and Chocolate calling London (a dish featuring the word “London” printed in chocolate). Blanch told IBTimes UK that the technology has made him “capable of a level of precision that would have never been possible before”.

But he isn’t the only fine dining chef who seemed to be receptive to this new technology. Dos Cielos’ Javier and Sergio Torres used the Foodini in 2014, while back in 2009 Heston Blumenthal, one of the world’s best chefs and owner of three Michelin-star restaurant The Fat Duck in Berkshire, England, had already embraced 3D printing to create jelly moulds on his popular TV programme Heston’s Victorian Feast.


Other chefs are looking beyond the kitchen. Dutch food designer Chloé Rutzerveld documented the creation of cracker-like yeast structures containing seeds and spores that sprout over time, and thinks that natural and transportable products printed efficiently could someday transform the food industry. 


She’s not alone. In fact, many experts believe food printers could minimize waste by using cartridges of hydrocolloids, substances that form gels with water. Those same machines, could also use unpalatable but plentiful ingredients such as algae, duckweed, and grass to form the basis of familiar dish in a more substainable way.

Also, 3D food printing holds great promise for nutrition. Lynette Kucsma, CMO and co-founder of Natural Machines, says printers like the Foodini can help people cut down on the amount of chemical additives in their food and reduce overconsumption. The food printers of tomorrow could even allow customization at the macronutritional level, allowing users individualize the amounts of calcium, protein, omega-3, and carbohydrates in their meals.


NASA is also exploring the opportunities offered by 3D printed food, and is conducting a study for the development of a 3D printed food system for long duration space missions. The current food system, in fact, wouldn’t meet the nutritional needs and five-year shelf life required for a mission to Mars or similar. 3D printed food would definitive be a great solution for this, enabling nutrient stability and providing a variety of foods from shelf stable ingredients, while minimizing time and waste.

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