What if you didn’t have to rush home to get food ready? Instead, you walk through the door, push a button, and by the time you’ve settled in, food is waiting for you.
3D printing may make that possible. That time-saving ideal may not be here yet, 3D printing food is.
Currently, there are a lot of companies working with 3D printed foods. Most of those, however, are novelty items. Sugars and chocolates have proven to be relatively easy for 3D printers to handle.
But, of course, the goal of those researching 3D printed foods is to use the technology to provide nutritious foods for the public.
Reducing the Ecological Impact of Food
For some, the plan is to create 3D-printed foods that reduce the environmental impact of current agricultural practices.
This is especially driven by the world’s current rate of population growth. The Population Institute points out that if it continues, especially as more people move from rural areas to urban ones (meaning there are fewer farmers and less land for farming), we may be unable to produce enough food to support everyone.
A large percentage of our arable land is also going to produce biofuels. Every acre used for biofuels means one less acre for food production.
But with 3D printing, foods could be printed from a wider range of ingredients than we’re currently willing to use. Most of us really don’t want to think about eating bugs or algae, but we might be willing to if we can’t tell where the food came from.
Though this article leaves a lot to be desired in the way it discusses the technology, it does point to one value of 3D printed foods: using as much of the food as possible. Bits too small for normal use could be powdered or ground into a paste for extrusion.
Creating Nutritionally-Optimized Foods
3D printing is already helping us make sure that senior citizens, and others who are unable to chew their food, eat their full meals. But the technology may also allow us to print foods that are nutritionally-optimized for individuals.
Researchers expect to build 3D printers capable of printing foods with the exact nutritional needs you need that day, probably by connecting 3D printers with wearables. This means you could customize each serving to the needs of the family member eating it.
Problems Faced by 3D Printed Foods
If 3D printers are going to impact how we make food, the amount of time needed to 3D print a meal needs to be drastically shortened. Consider this hilarious experience of 3D printing a romantic dinner.
Current 3D printers can also only handle a few materials at a time. For example, 3D printed pizzas and pastas already exist because only handful of ingredients (dough, sauce, cheese) are used. Complicated meals that require multiple cooking temperatures or many ingredients may not be possible anytime soon.
Even if some food items are replicated, producers may not find a market. Globalmeatnews.com did a poll on its website that found 39% of those polled would eat meat. However, another 39% said they wouldn’t, with 22% being unsure.
Current Food 3D Printers
These are the food printers currently on the market. Some are only available to commercial buyers.
It’s Still Science Fiction
We have a long time before 3D printing can match all the expectations placed on it. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the day I don’t have to worry about finding the time to cook.