Although squeezing out food, layer by layer, from a 3D printer may not yet be particularly efficient—nor sound that tasty—companies are already testing how the Jetsons-esque technology can transform the way we eat. Such old favorites as chocolate, candy, and pasta will take on groovier, sculptured forms when extruded from food printers, and the machines will allow the cooking-adverse to prepare “homemade” ravioli at the push of a button. That should free up more time to watch a tech-fantasy film like Her while the food printer is hard at work preparing dinner. Here’s a look at the 3D printing concepts on the menu at a range of companies:
This month, 3D Systems announced a development agreement with candy maker Hershey “to explore and develop innovative opportunities for using 3D printing technology in creating edible foods, including confectionery treats.” The printers could allow manufacturers to create candies in new shapes and customized designs. Hershey isn’t the first company to see 3D potential for chocolate: U.K.-based Choc Edge offers a printer for £2,888 ($4783) and a pack of syringes and chocolate for £15 that create what are essentially chocolate illustrations (pictured above).
Because the health and happiness of astronauts is paramount, NASA granted contractor Systems & Materials Research $125,000 to develop a pizza printer. The prototype uses shelf-stable powdered food and oils, offering nutrition while minimizing garbage on board a space vehicle. It first prints a layer of dough onto a heated plate that bakes the dough and then lays down a tomato base that has been stored in powdered form and mixed with water and oil. Last comes a printed “protein layer.”
Natural Machine’s Foodini ($1,400), to launch later this year, can make many kinds of food. Here’s how Mashable explains the ravioli printing process: “Prepare the dough and the filling, load them into the machine’s food ‘capsules’ and select ‘ravioli’ on the printer’s iPad-like interface. Foodini will then print the ingredients in the shape of fully-formed ravioli, and the only thing left to do is cook them.”
An additional Foodini recipe: vegetarian nuggets made of chickpeas, bread crumbs, garlic, spices, olive oil, and salt. Natural Machines co-founder Lynette Kucsma says the machine has also printed quiche, hash browns, cookies, crackers, brownies, and “upscale/designed” fish and chips.
Cornell Creative Machines Lab built a printer that can create a swirly, flower-shaped corn chip, using masa dough. It can also make hamburger patties with layers of ketchup and mustard.
Looking for inspiration in sugar cubes? 3D Systems’ Chefjet (one color, about $5,000) and Chefjet Pro (multi-color, about $10,000)—both available later this year—can print uniquely shaped sugar confections in flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, mint, cherry, sour apple, and watermelon. They can also print custom cake toppers–presumably in the likeness of the guest of honor.