3D Food Printer: Could this be the New Bread Maker?

3D printing has been the subject of research and experimentation for years. Now it is moving from plastics, metal and ceramics into a new frontier:


Molecular gastronomy

The "Scallop house", delicious!

Dave Arnold of the French Culinary Institute and Jeffrey Lipton, a mechanical engineering PhD student, are working together at Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab to create the next revolutionary appliance you are going to want in your kitchen.

The machine they have built (they call it “Fab@Home”) generates cookie dough, pesto, chocolate, and a wide range of other soft foods – in an infinite range of shapes ranging from tiny animals to miniature spacecraft. The limitation to soft foods is only temporary, they assure us, as is the production so far of uncooked delicacies. The main limit, it appears, is our imagination.

The new technology promises to allow chefs to play with a vast variety of textures and flavours, and do it all through a simple touch interface. “You can make things that are far more complex than what most people are skilled enough to do manually,” Lipton says.

The next step, according to Lipton: downloadable menus. “You can record a well-known chef’s recipe,” he says, “and have that be made at home for you, on the spot.”

How does it work?

Edible ink... yummy

For starters, the “ink” is all edible. It can contain just about any kind of food that can be pureed, from cheese to frosting to dough. This is poured into a print head and forced out under pressure into whatever shape a digital “blueprint” dictates.

“It is conceivable,” says Hod Lipson, head of the Cornell lab, “that a printer would also cook the material as it prints”.

“It’s digital cooking,” adds Lipton

What next?

The current thinking is, this technology will probably appear first in trendy restaurants, generating snacks and appetisers in novel shapes. Eventually, though, researchers expect Fab@Home’s descendants to be as common as the bread maker.

Implications are not merely cosmetic, for the food printer can help parents teach healthy eating habits, Lipton asserts. “If you gave kids peas that didn’t look like peas and said they were a space shuttle, they’re much more apt to eat them because it’s now playtime,” he says. “It’s a way of introducing nutrition to kids, sort of through trickery.”

So, what’s your pleasure – maybe a little puff-pastry rhinocerous?

About the author:

James has been a writer all his life. As a technical writer he pioneered online documentation and wrote end-user documentation for several computer manufacturers. His manuals have been praised in PCMagazine and Wired, among others. During a 14 year career in the U.S. navy (as a carrier jet aviator) James wrote a number of technical and classified publications. James has also written two novels and one stage play.

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