3D food printers: Create lunch with flip of a switch

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3D food printer
3D food printer

Just when you think you’ve seen or heard or read it all, trust me, you haven’t. There’s now a 3D printer for cheese.

Huh?

Michaela van Leeuwen, who has a dairy farm with her husband in the Netherlands, is taking ag entrepreneurship to a whole new level and has started a company, Print Cheese, to, well, print cheese.

Through her off-farm work, she discovered 3D printing of bioplastics and wondered if it could work with cheese, to add value to her farm products. She told Dairy Reporter it took a lot of trial and error — and will take more — but they finally developed a goat cheese that worked with the printer.

And cheese isn’t the only game in town. There was a whole 3D Food Printing Conference in the Netherlands earlier this month, and during the conference, the first 3D printing restaurant in the Netherlands was launched by Dutch startup byFlow.

Another huh?

Yup. Six conference visitors shared a five-course meal, all created with a 3D printer and Spanish chef Mateo Blanch, a Michelin Star award winner. There was chicken 3D printed in the shape of an octopus (because they could, I guess), and steamed after 3D printing; and “even meat that had been dissolved in champagne to make it extrudable,” reports the website www.3ders.org.

ByFlow is a 3D printer manufacturer that is taking its portable printer on the road, planning “pop-up” restaurants on a global tour this year.

Conference visitors report the 3D printed food actually maintains its original flavors and nutritional values. They say it could actually benefit those with dietary restrictions (you can customize nutritional qualities of the ingredients). Already, roughly 1,000 German nursing homes are serving a 3D-printed food product — made of mashed carrots, peas and brocoli — called Smoothfoods to residents who have difficulty chewing, according to digitrends.com.

Other proponents say the 3D food printers could be a boon for those who live in food deserts or in remote locations, because basic ingredients in the form of powders and oils could have extremely long shelf lives. In fact, NASA is one of the funders of this research, because of the challenges in creating food and food technology that can withstand time and space travel.

On the flip side, one 3D food printer says its pre-packaged plastic capsules, which can just be loaded into the machine to make food, would be free of preservatives, with a shelf life of only five days.

According to the Netherlands food conference sponsors, supermarkets are already testing 3D printed customized cakes, restaurants are offering printed desserts and some claim there will be a 3D food printer in every home — in just two years.

Don’t scoff — when people first heard about microwave ovens, they thought they would never catch on, either.

Engineer Anajan Contract is developing a pizza-making printer, but thinks in terms of a bigger, global sustainability picture.

“I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can’t supply 12 billion people sufficiently,” he told Quartz. “So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food.”

Lots of hype and lots of questions, and who knows how this will impact agriculture and the creation of food components or ingredients. (One source said alternative ingredients for food could be grass, algae or duckweed.

How do we ensure food safety? How does this mesh with the local foods or Slow Food movement? Can this new food technology help us deal with global food poverty and malnutrition? Would this help reduce food waste?

We may laugh today, but tomorrow, we may be printing out our Wheaties.

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By Susan Crowell

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