Have you ever watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where they used a Replicator to make something out of thin air? Have you ever thought it would be cool to have that technology, but never thought that it would be achieved in your lifetime? 3D printers have made this a possibility and bridged the gap between reality and science fiction. There’s even a few build it yourself and DIY printers that are on the market as well.
Transforming the Food Industry
In terms of Food 3D Printers for consumers, there are plenty of options available. Right now the technology isn’t as advanced as what was shown on Star Trek, but this is just the early stages.
There’s even been talk of bioprinting as an available option; this is the ability to print organic foods like a pear or an apple. The printer “ink” consists of 3 main components found in all foods: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The raw ingredients are loaded into the printer, along with the appropriate ratios of food components; hit print and away you go. There have even been successful attempts at printing meat. The texture isn’t quite there yet but the taste is supposedly spot on.
The two main hurdles faced by companies at the moment, is the texture/consistency of the food, and cooking the food while it’s being printed. If it’s a hamburger you’re looking for, yes you can have one printed. Just don’t be too surprised when the end result doesn’t look exactly like the burgers you’re used to.
The taste of the food seems to be the easiest to recreate. As long as you know the correct ingredients, your food should taste the same as regular food. The only obvious difference is how the food is put together.
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Another reason that home and commercial 3D printers are having a hard time gaining popularity is due to the cost. Ironically it’s the industrial 3D printers that wind up being cheaper and this is because industrial machines are usually made with the purpose of printing only one part. Commercial machines have to be way more versatile; with more customization comes a larger price tag. It is still proving to be a challenge to fit the technology into a desk sized unit. Until companies can streamline and simplify the production, the cost is going to remain high. Cornell Labs is still developing printable muscle tissue. This will make it possible to reproduce more “real life” textures when printing foods like meat or fish. Don’t worry though, with the everyday advances in technology a cheaper and better performing printer will be on the market in no time.
Food 3D Printing is an extremely new concept with a range of potential benefits. Let's bring to the kitchen 2 very cool tools:
Foodini is made by a company called Natural Machines and prints mainly appetizers and entrees (burgers, pies, cookies and more). If you hate cooking, Foodini will save you some time.
Here is a brief intro. Check out the beta and pre-production model in action:
ChefJet is the other Food 3D Printer on the market made by a company called 3D Systems and its focus is mainly desserts (cakes, candies, just to name a few). However, it needs to be more developed.
See it at work:
Both are still being tested and perfected, and both are on the pricey side. The Foodini will set you back about $1,400 and the ChefJet can $5,000-$10,000, depending on if you want the single or multi-color machine. As of right now the Foodini is the only over-the-counter option. ChefJet has more testing to complete before they can offer a consumer-ready version of their machine.
Companies are not entirely sure how the general public will react to the idea of this new technology. People are scared of change. The same thing happened when the microwave first came out. At first everyone thought that it poisoned the food. Fast forward to today, and it is nearly impossible to find a house without one.
Natural Machines is the first to point out that they are not on a quest to take all the work out of cooking. Instead they want to eliminate the time-consuming preparation that discourages people from wanting to cook in the first place. They also argue that the machines promote healthier eating because they require fresh ingredients to be prepared before the printing.
Despite the reason, this technology puts the human race one step closer towards the Jetsons and we as people need to ask ourselves; should we be doing this? The smartphone was supposed to revolutionize the way we communicate but ironically it’s made us more anti social. Will 3D food printers make us want to cook more, or simply be another unnecessary convenience? Like it or not the future is at our doorstep and only time will tell what this new technology has in store for us.
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