Creating custom food using 3D printers

Scientists are beginning to experiment with utilising 3D printers to create custom food with unique flavour payoffs.

Used primarily to make customised machine parts, medical implants, and other plastic objects, 3D printers are now being utilised to create custom food, promising new flavours, shapes and textures that could someday delight the most fastidious eater.

A feature article in Chemical & Engineering News, describes how 3D printers are serving up custom edibles. The story was produced in collaboration with ACS Central Science.

The difficulties of using 3D computers to produce food

3D printers build programmed shapes layer-by-layer, depositing materials (usually plastics) through a nozzle onto a surface. In recent years, researchers have been adapting the software and hardware to print foods instead of plastics.

However, this can be challenging because food properties are not always linear, and small fluctuations in temperature can completely change how edible ingredients flow. Pastes, such as chocolate frosting or peanut butter, are the easiest to work with. Although researchers are also experimenting with other food materials and textures, including powders, solids, liquids, and gels.

The different applications of culinary use

Customisable cuisine and personalised nutrition are now within reach. For instance, researchers at the US Department of Defence’s Combat Feeding Directorate, which develops military rations for the US Armed Forces, are working on 3-D printed nutrient bars tailored to the individual needs of soldiers under different conditions.

Meanwhile, researchers at Columbia University have made a slice of cheesecake with an elaborate internal structure that releases flavours in waves. A company called Redefine Meat is also trying to reproduce the structure, texture, and flavour of beef steaks by 3D printing plant-based fibres. Within the next 15 years, 3D printers may possibly have a prominent place in the kitchen as a new culinary staple.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a non-profit organisation chartered by the US Congress. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth.

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