If you thought 3-D printers were only meant for the manufacturing industry – printing out high precision machine parts, toys, jewellery, etc – well, it is time to think again. But there is a new frontier in 3D food printing that’s only beginning to come into focus. A report.
3-D printers can just about replicate anything: from high-precision jets to automobile parts, toys, jewelry, home decorations, and clothes. Now innovators have found out that 3-D food printers can improve the nutritional value of meals, produce sculptures from everyday foodstuff, and provide food in regions that do not have access to fresh, affordable ingredients.
As far as 3-D food printing is concerned, it uses layers of raw material. In addition to offering customized food options, the ability to 3-D food printing at home or on an industrial scale could reduce food wastage and the cost involved with storage and transportation.
The latest 3-D food printer is a combination of nozzles, powdery material, lasers and robotic arms to make sugar sculptures, patterned chocolate, and latticed pastry. The ChefJet from 3D Systems, for example, crystalizes thin layers of fine-grain sugar into a variety of geometric configurations. The Choc Edge from Barcelona-based Natural Foods dispenses chocolate from syringes in beautifully melty patterns.
The Foodini, for example, uses fresh ingredients loaded into stainless steel capsules to make foods like pizza, stuffed pasta, quiche, and brownies. Pasta-maker Barilla’s machine prints noodles with water and semolina flour. And the prototype from Hod Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia, fabricates nutrition bars and simple pastries.
Jin-Kyu Rhee, Associate Professor at Ewha Womans University in South Korea, has been quoted saying, “We built a platform that uses 3-D printing to create food microstructures that allow food texture and body absorption to be customised on a personal level. We think that one day, people could have cartridges that contain powdered versions of various ingredients that would be put together using 3-D printing and cooked according to the user’s needs or preferences,” said Prof Rhee.
In a new study, researchers used a prototype 3-D printer to create food with microstructures that replicated the physical properties and nanoscale texture they observed in actual food samples. The researchers also demonstrated that their platform and optimized methods could turn carbohydrate and protein into food with microstructures that could be tuned to control food texture and how the food was absorbed by the body. “We are only in early stages, but we believe our research will move 3-D food printing to the next level,” said Rhee. “We are continuing to optimize our 3-D print technology to create customized food materials and products that exhibit longer storage times and enhanced functionality in terms of body absorption.”
The 3-D printing of food is very important and everybody needs it. The potential market for this technology is huge. Food 3-D printing also offers an opportunity to provide customised ingredients. A healthy diet, especially at an early age, is a key factor to prevent many diseases and many people suffer from diseases and conditions that requires food adjustment. Most of these customised food products are currently designed and made by specially trained artisans but 3-D food printing can provide an alternative. Additionally, there are complications with printing because of the material that is being printed, that is, food. Dealing with food means that there are safety concerns for the 3-D printing process. Lastly, one of the main challenges for 3-D food printing is the challenge to print self-supporting structures and to maintain the 3-D shape.
3-D food printing is becoming an important technology for food production and with important implications such as the ability for customised food design and personalised nutrition. Its current impact, however, is still limited as it is viewed as complementary to traditional food manufacturing. There are also only limited varieties of food items that can be printed through 3-D food printers. Consumer preferences in taste, quality and cultural factors might also play an important role.