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Everything You Know: Printing Food With 3d Technology

Jun 16, 2023

Everything You Know: Printing Food With 3d Technology

You’ve heard of lab-grown meat and edible bugs, but another surprising alternative that’s going to be on your plate soon is printed. Yep, literally printed.

3D-printed food is prepared through an automated additive process. If that sounds unfamiliar, think of a pizza vending machine where the dough, sauce, and toppings are readily prepared and extruded individually—in one machine. On the other hand, 3D-printed food is just a more advanced and customizable successor to that technology.

Because it is still in its infancy stage, food that can be 3D-printed is rather limited. Similar to fused deposition modeling (FDM) printing—the most widely used technique to 3D-print usable products—the machine requires inputs that are viscous or in a paste form such as purees, mousses, or ganache. Now, imagine the potential combinations between doughs, cheeses, and even raw meat.

How does it work?

The process is pretty much similar to FDM printing where raw material is fed into a syringe-like container and squeezed out as the nozzle is moved around tracing shapes and patterns to form 2D layers, one at a time. 

Food 3D printers won’t do the cooking for you, though. The finished product is usually ready for consumption or needs to be cooked externally. However, there is already a machine that designs and cooks pancakes good enough to be art pieces called the PancakeBot. We still need to flip the pancake ourselves though, otherwise, everything else is done on the same machine.

Practices in the food industry

Soon, you may see food 3D printers being used in fine dining restaurants, gourmet and molecular kitchens, and fancy patisseries. They may be expensive but they are capable of producing intricately-designed accents for dishes, which makes them a valuable investment for places that prioritize presentation and precision.

Although this machine will be more common in higher-end establishments, we may be able to find edible 3D-printed candies, chocolate, wedding cake decorations, and even pizza. As of late, the plant-based industry is 3D-printing vegan meat to mimic the texture of the real thing.

In reality, food 3D printing has a long way to go before seeing wider acceptance from the food industry as it is still not scalable—thus more research and development are needed for it to mature.