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3D Printed Food: What You Need to Know

3D Printed Food: What You Need to Know | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

William Stone


January 26, 2023

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has sparked a revolution in the manufacturing industry, which has flourished over the past couple of decades. Although this revolution has mainly occurred within the confines of the manufacturing industry, several tangential industries are beginning to employ 3D printing. One such industry is the food industry.

Initially tried at Cornell University, 3D printed food has been further experimented with by engineers, companies, and restaurants alike. 3D printed food could help reduce food waste, improve dietary health, and increase food accessibility.

While 3D printing has undoubtedly inundated the manufacturing industry far more than it has with the food industry, some speculate that 3D printing could be a significant player in the food industry’s future. Keep reading to learn more about the history of 3D printed food, why 3D printed food is a big deal, and the pros and cons of 3D printed food.

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Table of Contents

3D Printed Food: An Overview

3D printed food may not be as prevalent as 3D printed objects, but there are plenty of present-day examples of 3D printed food and its future is even brighter. First, let’s define what exactly 3D printed food is. 3D printed food encompasses any food that is produced through an automated additive process.

To expand upon this generic definition, an automated additive process is a process that, like 3D printing, takes a conceptual image or model and any existing material and combines the two to form an object without manual interference.

Now, this process is relatively simple for 3D object manufacturing. Typically, a single material, a polymer filament, will be used to form the object. However, 3D printed food fundamentally requires more than one material as most meals are comprised of multiple ingredients.

Thus, there are limitations to the types of food that can be 3D printed. These foods are generally paste-like or viscous. These include forms such as purées, mousses, doughs, mashes, cheeses, frostings, and occasionally even raw meats. The foods you can 3D print also depend on the type of 3D printing that you are using.

For instance, here are the types of printing ingredients that can be used with extrusion-based printing.

  • Soy
  • Alt-Proteins
  • Purée
  • Cheese
  • Dough
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Jelly
  • Frosting

Here are the types of printing ingredients that can be used with selective laser sintering and binder jetting printing.

  • Chocolate Powder
  • Sugar
  • Protein Powder

Finally, here are the types of printing ingredients that can be used with inkjet printing.

  • Sauces
  • Colored Food Ink

While this may seem like a relatively bounded list of ingredients, they can combine to produce a much vaster assortment of foods. Still, there is much more work to be done before 3D printed food becomes as integral to our society as 3D manufacturing is already becoming.

Before we look ahead, let’s look toward the past and delve into the history behind 3D printed food.

3D Printed Food: The History

2006 was a major year for 3D printed food. Its foundation began as a NASA research project to more effectively and efficiently feed astronauts during their missions. That same year, a group of students at Cornell University led a project called Fab@Home, which used a multi-material 3D printer to print chocolate, cookie dough, and cheese.

Companies and groups such as Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, Choc Edge, biozoon GmbH, and Modern Meadow continued experimenting with the technology, developing a range of projects. These projects include sugar sculptures, 3D printed meat, and even easy to chew food for seniors.

In 2013, Nasa developed its NASA Advanced Food Program, which sought more effective options for feeding a team of astronauts traveling on longer missions. The program collaborated with BeeHex to develop the Chef3D, capable of printing entire pizzas, although these pizza creations would have to be baked separately.

The following year, in 2014, 3D Systems and Hershey’s collaborated to develop a chocolate printer. These collaborations further legitimized the prospect of 3D printed food and gave it the platform for further expansion.

3D Printed Food: Why is it a Big Deal?

Now, with a glimpse into the past of 3D printed food, let’s take a look at its present and future – and why many believe 3D printed food could play a much more significant role in the years to come. To fully understand 3D printed food’s bright future, it would be prudent to understand where the future of the 3D printing industry as a whole is heading.

The 3D printing industry at large is booming. By 2024, 3D printing products and services are predicted to become an over 40 million US dollar industry. The expected growth rate of this industry between 2020 and 2040 is roughly 26.4% each year.

So, it is clear that the 3D printing industry is experiencing great success, but you may be wondering what this means for 3D printed food. Like most other forms of 3D printing, 3D food printing has the potential to create an increase in accessibility, efficiency, and quality for its respective industry.

Thus, there is a massive incentive to improving the technology behind 3D printing food. Still, there are drawbacks to using this technology. Let’s take a comprehensive look at all of the pros and cons of using 3D printing technology to create 3D printed foods.

3D Printed Food: Pros & Cons

As mentioned in the previous section, there are many advantages to 3D printed food related to accessibility, efficiency, and quality. Additionally, there are several disadvantages to using 3D food printing technology as it exists today. This section will lay out these advantages and disadvantages and elucidate further on each one.

First, let’s take a look at the pros associated with 3D printed food.

  • Easily Customizable: As the 3D printing process is automated, it allows for a precision level no human chef could ever attain. This could be tremendously beneficial for those with restricted diets. However, this could also benefit those who are simply picky. One could easily manipulate a food’s appearance through a 3D food printer to make it appear more appetizing.
  • Easily Reproducible: The 3D printing process could also make reproducing specific meals much simpler. The process of sharing a recipe with another person could be made as simple as sharing a digital file with another computer.
  • Can Use Recycled Foods: Alternatively, 3D food printers do not necessarily need to be used to produce foods. Instead, they can use food waste to produce objects. This is what Luna Yu and her team at Genecis are currently doing. With the power of biotechnology, machine learning, and microbial engineering, they can turn food waste into PHAs, which can be used to create anything from medical devices to children’s toys.

Now, let’s take a look at the cons associated with 3D printed food.

  • Print Time: While more straightforward 3D printers, like those used at Choc Edge, can print foods in a reasonably short amount of time, others can take between 45 minutes to an hour to print each food. There is still no method for remedying this scalability issue, which means meals could take hours, even days, to fully prepare.
  • Cost of Equipment and Materials: Additionally, there is still a high cost to obtaining the equipment and materials necessary to 3D print food. The hope is, once the technology becomes more popularized, the prices will go down in response.

Final Thoughts

After this article, you should know a bit more about the history of 3D printed food, why 3D printed food is a big deal, and the pros and cons of 3D printed food. Ultimately, the technology has not reached the mainstream quite yet.

However, if 3D printed food experiences similar growth to that of the greater 3D printing industry, we may all be eating 3D printed food in the future.

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3D Printed Food: What You Need to Know


William Stone

William Stone

William has spent 20 plus years in the custom manufacturing industry as a COO, CEO and Owner of various custom product businesses. His experience has exposed him to all types of manufacturing from die cast, die struck, injection molding, CNC machining, laser etching, engraving and of course 3D printing.

Learn more about William Stone

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