by Sostene Costantino
There are many tools that you can use for cooking. Frying pans, cooking pots, ovens and microwaves, just to list a few. No one would ever think to include a printer among them. But thanks to development in 3D printing technology, this is changing.
Creating a three-dimensional object based on a computer design has become more widespread in recent years. 3D printers are currently being used in a variety of fields.
The food world has also ventured into this technology. 3D food printers work in the same way as traditional ones.
“It’s based on a cylinder model where liquid is squeezed out,” says Katy Askew, senior editor of the website Foodnavigator.com. But instead of melted plastic, 3D food printers use ingredients to produce edible products ready to be cooked.
“I like to define this a revolution. It is a brand-new technology entering the kitchen,” says Lynette Kucsma, co-founder of the company Natural Machines. Their product Foodini is “the first real food 3D printer,” she says.
The reasons behind its creation go beyond technological innovation. “We didn’t create a food printer because we wanted to do something new and cool. We built it to be a food appliance.”
The goal of Foodini stems from a specific trend that Kucsma detected in the modern food market.
“This technology taps into people’s desire to know what is in their food and where it comes from.” She believes Foodini is the answer to this request.
“We want people to be able to print the same food that they would buy at the supermarket, using fresh ingredients.”
The total control of individuals over the production process can also lead to a healthier way of consuming food.
“The fact that people can use their own ingredients is where the health aspect comes in. It creates an option over buying something that is processed, with additives and preservatives,” says Kucsma.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Foodini is going to be always healthier.
“You could use Foodini to make unhealthy food, the same way if you were to use your oven to only make brownies and chips,” says Kucsma.
Another strong point in favour of 3D food printers is the opportunity they offer for an individually tailored food experience.
“People are expecting more personalisation and you could see 3D printing technology deliver a personalised product,” says Askew. 3D printers can specifically cater to people’s personal tastes, but also help to improve their diet.
“With 3D printers you can personalise food’s nutritional profile,” says Kucsma. “For example, if you are low on vitamin D or need more iron in your diet, you can print a product with the correct amount for you.”
The link between the technology and this concept of ‘smart diet’ is also highlighted by ByFlow, a Dutch company that also produces its own 3D printer called Focus.
“If smart dieting is really supposed to replace the one we know, 3D food printing has a great potential to satisfy this need,” says Milena Adamczewska, PR manager of the company. “It could make it possible to produce personalised meals on the spot, on the bases of our DNA and daily body needs.”
At the moment, 3D printers occupy a niche section of the food market.
“This kind of technology doesn’t fit food manufacturers’ production model. The niche is very high end, ultra-detailed, Michelin-starred dining,” says Askew.
One of the reasons is certainly the printer’s price.
“The investment required for a 3D food printer is still significant,” says Askew. Both Foodini and Focus come with a price-tag of £2,900. “To get into people’s kitchen you need to bring the unit cost down.”
It is probable that, like with every new technology, the cost will decrease the more the technology develops. Natural Machines are currently working on a version specifically catering to home kitchens.
The industry’s aim is to make the 3D food printer a common appliance in every household, but Kucsma reckons there is another obstacle this technology needs to face.
“People have to wrap their heads around it,” she says. “I think there is the need for a big educational process to happen because people are very emotional and passionate about food. The challenge is to make sure that consumers understand why 3D food printers are a positive thing.”
“3D food printing technology is undoubtedly new. What’s new is unknown and what’s unknown can be distrustful, doubtful and questionable,” echoes ByFlow’s Adamczewska.
“Our goal is to explain the reality of this technology and resolve the most common concerns about 3D food printing.”
In Kucsma’s eyes, this process will still take time. “We reckon 3D food printers will become common appliances in 10 to 15 years,” she says.
“It took the microwave 30 years. But nowadays we are dealing with a more tech-savvy audience, more used to technological innovations.”
The expectations are that food 3D printers will indeed become a widespread resource in the food market.
“I expect that it would get there,” says Askew. “3D food printing is not yet at the tipping point, but it will play a bigger role in the food industry.”
Featured Image Provided by Natural Machines