People are piloting a lot of 3D-printed products these days, from our clothes to our homes, such as House Zero, and our rockets, which use the biggest metal 3D printers ever made. But 3D printing what we eat, really?
A revolution in 3D printing has the first foods rolling off the press — or squeezing out of the nozzle, rather. On the front line are desserts, with a team of mostly mechanical engineers (and, thankfully, one nutritionist) experimenting with cheesecakes.
In the new study, cheesecakes were manufactured out of the nozzle with toppings like strawberry jam, Nutella, and frosting. Watch the dessert printing in action HERE. Note the brown layers - which held together better when some graham cracker crumble was included — alternating with pools of sticky stuff like peanut butter surrounding sweet, liquid additions like banana mush. Make you hungry, or disgusted?
And, by the way, it’s not just desserts that are poised for a culinary overhaul. Says study author Jonathan Blutinger, “The cheesecake is the best thing we can showcase right now, but the printer can do a whole lot more. We can print chicken, beef, vegetables, and cheese. Anything that can be turned into a paste, liquid or powder.” Liquid beef lacks marketing appeal, as does pasty chicken. Still, Blutinger argues that 3D printed food is inevitable, and may include vegan steak, for example.
So, what’s the point of 3D printing our food? Aside from Blutinger’s premise that it makes available “your own personal digital chef,” it could help sustain global food supply. Like mechanized agriculture, 3D printing could put food prep steps into the hands of machines that can operate faster than people.
A recent study reviews food printing to date, laying out a way forward using “rheology.” Rheology is the study of how materials flow and deform by — you guessed it— rheologists. And the rheology of 3D printed food could have a huge bearing on whether we want to eat it. Would you want to munch on a celery stick with the texture of oatmeal? A brownie with the texture of potato chips?
Creating food with a consistency perceived as edible is a major challenge of this emerging mode of additive manufacturing, or manufacturing that builds 3-dimensional objects layer by layer.
The review study explains that a range of factors affect the texture and shape of food after it gets extruded from a printer. And once it comes out, the goal would be typically for it to hold its shape, unless it’s a pudding. Says study author Ezgi Pulatsu, “Once a layer is deposited, we no longer want it to flow; otherwise, it will destroy the shape we created.”
So, producing an edible printed food is an artform that will require an innovative melding of ingredients, rheology, chemistry, engineering, and a solid dose of optimism.