What is 3D printed food and can it be created in space?

3D food printers can facilitate anything from the creation of the most elaborate cake decorations to the production of a steak in space, but how do they work?

3D food printing can be used for various culinary purposes; ranging from the 3D printing of pizzas, all the way to the chocolate sprinkles on a cappuccino. In cases of intricate cake design, 3D food printers allow the user to create an almost perfect product, using materials that would otherwise cause difficulty while handling.

A 3D food printer works in a similar way to a regular fused filament fabrication 3D printer, however, the raw material used to produce the product does not come in spools as with traditional 3D printers.

Although using such devices can be a costly, time consuming process, when combined with cultured or lab-grown meat, 3D food printers also have the capability of creating animal protein steaks.

3D printing beef in space

Despite the market growth of meat alternatives, many companies are looking to grow meat in their laboratories. This kill-free alternative allows consumers to reduce their meat consumption and consume meat without the ethical implications of eating farmed meat. An Israeli start up, Aleph Farms is one of the companies responsible for exploring and studying this innovative concept further.

Aleph Farms have partnered with the Russian laboratory 3D Bioprinting Solutions, as well as two other UK companies. The partnership conducted experiments on the International Space Station using a 3D printer to assemble cells harvested from live animals in order to create a piece of edible steak.

Creating the ‘bio-ink’

By gathering cells from live cows, Aleph Farms nourished and grew the cells in their laboratory for it to be assembled into forms that are recognisable as the meat humans eat. The animal cells were mixed with growth factors to create the ‘bio-ink’ for it to be 3D printed. The printer then creates multiple layers of cells which grow into a piece of muscle tissue, and essentially from there the muscle tissue grew into a piece of steak.

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