The 3D printing industry has grown at great speed: “The Wohlers Report 2019 forecast for 2020 is $15.8 billion for all AM products and services worldwide. The company expects that revenue forecast to climb to $23.9 billion in 2022, and $35.6 billion in 2024”.
As you can see 3D printing is estimated to keep growing and rising, and will continue to be a strong sector in the digital printing industry.
When you think of 3D printing people automatically think about printing parts for electronics, robotics, engineering and even medicine; but there is a huge potential in alternative applications such as the food industry.
3D printing food is not a new thing; NASA has been research this subject since 2006. In 2013, NASA partnered with BeeHex and developed Chef3D a 3D printer able to 3D print a pizza, pasta, sushi, broccoli, cheese, peanut butter and jelly, to name some.
Nowadays 3D printing is available to public; this makes it easier for restaurants, chefs, and food-enthusiasts to get their hands on a 3D printer for their creations.
Types of 3D Printers for Food
For 3D printing there are many different types of printers, to name a few:
- Deposition Printers: these printers deposit layers of raw materials; these layers are adhered to each other (additive manufacturing: AM), most 3D food printers fall into this category.
- Binding Printers: to put it into simples terms the materials are adhered together with edible cement.
- Sintering Printers: a narrow and directed, low-speed beam of hot air fuses together print media grains (low melting powders such as sugar) forming a two dimensional image. Then a thin flat layer of media is added to this layer and selectively fuses the media into the new layer and forming a layered 2D image, the process is repeated until you get a 3D printed image.
- Hot-melt Extrusion Printers: this technology is used for liquids or paste. The material is heated slightly above its melting point, so that it adheres to the previous layers by solidifying almost immediately after extrusion.
- Retrofitted or expanded 3D printers: you can modify an existing 3D printer; the ones using a RAMPS/Arduino control system are likely to work well with food.
Benefits of using 3D to Print Food
- Creativity: 3D printing allows you to print intricate and complex shapes and structures that might be difficult to do by hand. You can add different textures, whatever your artistic vision dictates.
- Speed: you can save time doing decorations with a 3D printer, it is faster than doing them by hand. Sometimes even traditional cooking can be more time-consuming than 3D printing foods.
- Customization and mass production: you can have specific settings for each food type, and ad a personal touch to each diner.
- Health opportunities: you can personalize the ingredients in each meal for each person depending on dietary restrictions such as veganism, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. Also for people with chewing difficulties in hospitals and nursing homes, the food can be reprinted in 3D in a more pleasant consistency and increase the standard of living.
- Less food waste: this applies to food that is still good but does not have a pleasant appearance. For example, fillet leftovers are still good but no one wants them, but if you 3D printed them into a fillet, these would be sellable.
Cons of using 3D to Print Food
- Cost: 3D printers specialized in food are expensive.
- Food limitations: all ingredients must be converted into a paste before printing. And even so it is easier to print plastic or metal than food.
- Safety: ingredients must be shelve-stable in order for these not to go bad or spoil. Every aspect of a food 3D printer has to be clean and food-safe.
- Partial cooking: 3D printers have come along way but they cannot produce a complete meal from beginning to end. There are some aspects these still can’t perform such as baking, basting, sprinkle condiments or toppings.
- Skepticism: most people in the culinary industry are skeptical 3D printers should be used in restaurants; they believe these are better suited for magazine shoots, not the real world.
3D Printing Culinary Alternatives
Now that the 3D food printing process is defined, you might think this is just too much work or that it is not for you. But there are other more traditional alternatives to 3D printing food that are less complex and a bit more traditional.
You can use 3D printing to make bake ware like plastic molds with intricate shapes, as Dinara Kasko has done for her desserts.
Another alternative is printing cutlery or dinnerware using a 3D printer, so you do not have to worry so much about the printing food and its implications.
Maybe even 3D print furniture or décor for your restaurant, you can also choose to 3D print part of your food, such as pastry decorations or garnishes.
In conclusion, there are lots of ways you can participate in 3D culinary printing world; you just have to find the one that suits you and your needs the best.