Foodies worldwide, rejoice. 3D printed food promises to how we perceive, prepare and nourish ourselves forever. Food 3D printers mean you can gift your friends sweets and chocolates in the shape of their face, create a delicious burger from scratch, or even 3D print heart-shaped pizza celebrate your anniversary — all within 5 minutes.
This feature story is the result of tens of hours of research into the food 3D printers available on the market, 3D printable foods and 3D printer materials, current limitations, advantages of 3D printed food, and real life use cases. We cover the different options available, how some Michelin starred restaurants are already using food 3D printers, the health benefits, and more.
- We have also written a separate article on the best food 3D printers.
- In addition, we have an article focused on chocolate 3D printers.
What is 3D printed food? And how can you 3D print food?
3D printed food means any type of food that has been printed via a food 3D printer. Most food 3D printers use a similar technique to FDM 3D printers, depositing a food safe 3D printer filament (such as chocolate) onto a build plate based on a 3D printer model you can either download or design yourself. Instead of plastic filament used in FDM printers, food 3D printers use an edible, food safe filament such as chocolate, tomato sauce, and various other tasty flavors.
If you have ever iced a cake using a piping bag, these food printers are similar, except with robotic precision as they deposit edible filament in your desired shape. Once one layer of your edible model is finished, the food 3D printer starts on the layer above, creating a three-dimensional food model over time.
Food 3D printers extrude the food material out from a nozzle, though some use robotic arms, lasers, and other crazy inventions. Most food 3D printers currently focus on sugary desserts like chocolates and sweets, though some companies are creating 3D printed pizzas, spaghetti, and even burgers and meat.
But why choose 3D printed food?
Advantages of 3D printing food
The benefits 3D printed food offers over traditional food varies from health, to saving time, and convenience. Here are the six main benefits 3D printing food offers:
3D printed food can be healthier
In the future, experts have theorized that we will eat 3D printed sustenance made of hydrocolloids — substances that form gels with water. These include algae, duckweed, and types of grass.
Though they are not currently widely eaten, they are full of vitamins and proteins key to staying healthy. These could replace the base ingredients of future food dishes, providing a natural way to get your carbohydrates, antioxidants, proteins, and more.
3D printing food can be quicker and save you time and effort
Some aspects of cooking are monotonous and repetitive, like chopping vegetables. Food 3D printers create food autonomously once you have selected the dish you want, freeing up time to read a book, watch tv or learn a language.
Additionally, some aspects of cooking have fairly steep learning curves. For example, it takes many years to master decorating wedding cakes. A food 3D printer can create these geometric shapes easily with a 100% success rate, and do it while you relax. This infinite shortening of the learning curve is one of the huge assets of 3D printing food.
3D printing food in space is the future
3D printed food is one of the most promising ways of keeping astronauts fed as we prepare to voyage through deep space. 3D printed food filaments are pastes created from the original, fresh ingredients, and these pastes can be kept in the right storage for years without spoiling. Astronauts can keep a silo of food paste and 3D print the exact amount of food and vitamins they need for each meal, wasting nothing and neither under or overeating.
Though we have come an extraordinarily long way in aviation and spaceflight within the last century, compared to the speed of light we still move very slowly. Since we can send signals and therefore messages and files out into space at the speed of light, we can send custom designs to the 3D printers on board far away spaceships.
This means that we can send new recipes to astronauts millions of kilometers away, and have their 3D food printer cook it for them minutes later.
Environmental benefits of 3D printed food
It is very likely that switching to 3D printed food would reduce fuel emissions. This is due to supermarkets switching over to selling ‘food cartridges’ rather than perishable foods which last months or years, rather than a few days. This reduces the amount of transportation undertaken by supermarket trucks, releasing less pollution into the atmosphere.
3D printing food saves money and reduces food waste
3D printers are some of the least wasteful machines around as additive manufacturing uses only what is required to print a model. A food 3D printer can print the exact amount of food filament required, with the exact amount of vitamins and supplements that you need for a meal. Not only is this efficient, but it saves you money compared to buying ingredients which may spoil and be thrown away.
Download your dinner
Remember ‘You wouldn’t download a car?!’ Well now you can download dinner. Most major 3D food printer companies have communities of people who take great pleasure in designing their own meals and geometric patterns of food design. Many are on the internet for you to download and print for yourself. If you need something special for a birthday cake, just search for it, it’s probably there!
Being a new revelation, there are limitations however.
Limitations of 3D printed food
Firstly, 3D printed food ingredients are currently restricted to dry, shelf-stable ingredients that do not spoil quickly. These ingredients are ground into a paste and then kept, ready to be 3D printed later.
Each of these ingredients are different chemically and thus have different melting points. When 3D printing with plastics like ABS and PLA this is never a problem as each plastic has a set melting point and thus a set extruder temperature. Melting different ingredients at different temperatures can cause problems, resulting in uneven food textures.
Moreover, though the food paste is melted when it is extruded, it is not cooked during the 3D printing process, and food must be cooked afterwards instead. This is only a problem for food pastes that cannot be eaten raw — chocolate 3D printers are fine. However, there are companies who are working on incorporating cooking into the printing process currently, and this may change in the near future.
3D Food Printers
Though there are far more options out there, here are three interesting food 3D printers. For a more detailed ranking, check out our Best Food 3D Printer ranking here.
- Foodini – Made by Spanish food 3D printer company Natural Machines, the Foodini is a versatile machine. Printing via fresh ingredients loaded into stainless steel tubes, the Foodini can print pizzas, pasta, quiches, and even brownies!
- ByFlow Focus – Made in the Netherlands, the byFlow Focus, like the Foodini, is another food 3D printer which has seen real-life use in restaurants and kitchens. Mostly designed to make chocolates and meringues, the food printer has a number of large clients in the food industry already.
- ChefJet and ChefJet Pro – Announced by industrial 3D printer giant 3D Systems at CES 2014, the ChefJet range can 3D print sweets and candy desserts using a material binding technique not dissimilar to Binder Jetting. However, a number of setbacks have meant the food 3D printer still hasn’t seen a worldwide release, though recent updates look promising.
Real Life Uses of 3D Printed Food
Food Ink is a pop-up restaurant based in the hipster part of Shoreditch, London, bringing 3D printed food to the UK. The restaurant is entirely 3D printed – not just the food and desserts, but all the chairs, lamps, and decorations within the restaurant too.
Visitors were served nine small courses of 3D printed food, made by byFlow Focus food 3D printers. Due to the reception received, discussions have taken place to bring Food Ink locations to Singapore and even Dubai. 3D printed food could be the new luxury dining experience of the future.
3D printed meat
- We also have an in-depth feature story about 3D printed meat.
A number of startups are in the process creating 3D printed meat that mimics the taste, texture and even smell of real meat, but with 3D printable and plant-based materials.
Companies like Novameat and Redefine Meat are working on 3D printable beef steaks and other products using unique plant-based compounds that taste like the blood, fat and muscle that make up traditional meat flavors. Plant-based oils mimic the taste of fat, while legumes and beans create the muscle flavor, which are then 3D printed together using specialist meat 3D printers.
Novameat founder Giuseppe Scionti aims to be supplying national supermarkets by 2021 with his meat 3D printers, and with massive ethical advantages arising from getting our meat without killing farm animals, this could be 3D printed food’s biggest sector in the coming years.
Five-time Michelin-starred chef Paco Pérez has adopted 3D printed food in some of his restaurants. The world-renowned chef has introduced several Foodini food 3D printers into his 2 Michelin star restaurant La Enoteca to “recreate form and pieces” of food that are “exactly identical,” thus allowing cooks to do other tasks concurrently.
If a chef with 5 Michelin stars feels 3D printed food is good enough, then it’s good enough.
3D Printed Pizza
Whenever delicious food is discussed, pizza is never far from the conversation. One of the main selling points of some food 3D printers is that they can print pizzas in minutes. We looked in more detail at two particular companies aiming to create 3D printed pizza for the masses.
Natural Machines’ Foodini machine is one of the main teams working on 3D printed pizzas, with the Foodini already able to print the base and tomato sauce. It does this by pumping out a dough mixture in a spiral shape and then repeating this afterwards with the sauce ingredients on top.
However, this means that any cheese, seasonings, or other toppings need to be added afterwards by hand, as well as the cooking of the pizza. There are advances being worked on for future generations of the Foodini that will be able to cook the 3D printed pizza as it is printed however, so stay tuned.
BeeHex are another pioneer in the 3D printed pizza craze. Since their founding, BeeHex have raised over a million dollars in their pursuit to create delicious and mass-producible 3D printed pizzas to be used in kitchens and homes worldwide. The company claim that their Chef3D printer can print a whole 12 inch pizza within 5 minutes!
The printer isn’t out yet, but prototypes printing pizza from scratch already went viral last year. We’ll have to be patient and see how good the Chef3D pizza printer is when it releases, and if the taste competes with handmade pizza.
There are benefits to 3D printing pizza, apart from the reduction in human labor. For example at major sports events, teams can create models that print pizza with their team’s logo, and at promotional events for companies they can print their edible brand logo within the pizza. This would not be possible without a pizza 3D printer.