21st century introduced 3D printing as the new technology in construction, medicine, engineering, food and other areas. 3D food printing is a digitally controlled, robotic construction process which can build up complex 3D food products layer by layer. It uses fresh ingredients processed in such a way that it can be extruded through a nozzle onto a food-safe surface. As long as the ingredients are puréed, it can be printed. The uses of 3D food printing are many and connect to innovation, commercial profit and social relief.
3d food printing3D food printing is closely connected to tackling health conditions. One such condition is dysphagia, namely the inability to swallow foods or liquids, and it often presents itself in senior citizens. Through 3D food printing, soft enough food can be produced so as to not require chewing. Furthermore, it can save sufficient time, processing costs or transportation costs (if they rely on suppliers) for hospitals. Another advantage is that 3D printing has shown that it can produce foods that meet specific needs of the patient (i.e. iron deficiencies, low calcium, conventional look for dementia patients etc.).
Extending on the health issue, malnutrition in areas struck by famine or natural disaster is a common phenomenon. 3D food printing may tackle the problems of undernourishment and extreme weather events as it ensures adequate nutrient intake, based on a person’s dietary requirements, and it offers portability and on-demand nutrients. The cost of this technology is of course overbalanced by the money saved for medical treatment, pharmaceutical products, medical staff etc., necessary for the health issues of Third World countries.
Gourmet cooking has encompassed 3D food printing as innovative cooking and several restaurants (mainly high-class and expensive) have included 3D printed meals in their menus, although chefs tend to be hard judges valuing a variety of textures in their dishes. Some restaurants offering 3D printed food can be found here. Moreover, there are manufacturing projects regarding desserts, such as Pixsweet which turns an image (selected by the customer) into a 3D model for popsicles manufacturing it in high speed. Examples of food printed in 3D can be found here.
Finally, NASA is researching how to implement 3D food printing in space projects since it allows astronauts to eat more nutritious meals, it saves space and food can be made out of easily stored components.
There is, of course, the opposite side to all positive opinions about 3D food printing. The printers are slow, use a lot of energy and require some knowledge to program. Furthermore, as with any cooking establishment, if the machinery is not clean and does not meet hygienic standards, it is unavoidable for 3D printers to produce unsuitable food.
3D food printers can be classified in the following categories according to their technology (more technical details here and here you can view 3D food printers for purchase):