Additive manufacturing has really transformed many areas of our lives today from desktop 3D printers to food printers that could produce custom designed personalized nutritional meals in every home one day. This month, our team has decided to take a closer look at the evolution of Food Printing. As far as food printers go, the use of additive manufacturing techniques spans from the basic extrusion based systems to powder and liquid binding deposition techniques. This allows the end-user to leverage the different material properties to achieve simple to complex shapes that can be created using each technique. In extrusion based food printers which may or may not involve melting, common materials that can be printed are typically soft materials like cheese, peanut butter, dough and chocolate which requires melting. One of the key challenges in this approach is the need for materials that are being printed to be viscous enough to hold its shape under gravity after printing. Shapes that can be achieved using extrusion based printers are typically limited to be a 2D extrusion by layering. A more sophisticated method to create complex shapes in food printing is to utilize powder based laser sintering. In this case, the materials that begin as a bed of powder is fused together by applying heat, infrared laser and hot air. Currently the only material that is being used for such a technique is sugar to make decorative confectionary. The figure below shows the evolution of food printers that have emerged in the market.
Printable vs. non-printable foods
To successfully print food materials, one must first assess the properties needed to achieve printing of 3D structures. In general, the food material must be viscous enough to be extruded and then hold its structure after being printed. Some materials such as cheese, chocolate and icing are natively “printable” on extrusion based 3D printers while other materials such as vegetables and meats may require modifications or transformation prior to printing. A team of food innovators and experts at Cornell University and the French Culinary Institute showed how turkey, scallop and celery can be processed and modified to create 3D printed shapes that would still maintain their structure even after slow cooking or deep frying them. They added a food additive called transglutaminase to ensure printability of each food material. This is just one of many examples today of the innovation behind food printing and what the future might bring.
Future of food printing
In the “not-too-distant” future, food printers will become a common household appliance in every home, offering personalized nutrition that can be delivered in both an artistic and creative manner. Food printing can offer a precise personalized nutrition plan to tailor fit an individual’s needs and even accommodate special diets. Those living with diabetes could benefit from custom 3D printed meals with specifications for exact daily sugar intake. It can also be used to help athletes achieve the desired physique by printing the optimal calories for cutting, bulking, or maintaining weight. Medical devices that oversee health can work injunction with 3D printers to produce meals that moderate vitamin and essential protein levels. It can also help the consumer enjoy the required nutrients in an aesthetically pleasing way via complex geometric patterns or shapes as opposed to a much less savory pill or powder form. 3D food printers offer many flexible ways to solve human dietary issues through concise measurements and appealing nutritional distribution.