Foodies worldwide, rejoice. 3D printed food promises to change the game, from the way food is presented, to how it is made and eaten. 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 pizza in the shape of a heart to celebrate your anniversary – all within 5 minutes.
It’s true, it really is.
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 more. 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?
3D printed food denotes food that has been printed via a food 3D printer, usually layer-by-layer. Most food 3D printers use a similar technique to fused deposition modeling to print food, by printing each part of a layer (usually 0.5mm in height) before printing the next layer on top of this.
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!
But why choose 3D printed food?
Why eat 3D printed food? Advantages of 3D printing food:
There are a number of benefits 3D printed food offers over traditional food, varying from health to saving time and convenience.
1 – Health benefits of 3D printed food
In the future experts have theorized that we will eat 3D printed food 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.
2 – 3D printed food saves time
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 get good enough at decorating wedding cakes to do this reliably. 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.
3 – 3D printing food in space
3D printed food is one of the most promising ways of keeping astronauts fed as we prepare to voyage through deep space. Since 3D printed food stems from paste created from the original, fresh ingredients, the paste can be kept in storage for potentially years without spoiling. Astronauts can keep a silo of food and 3D print the exact amount of food and vitamins they need for each meal, wasting nothing and neither under or overeating.
It gets crazier too. Though we have come an extraordinarily long way in terms of aviation and spaceflight in 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 literally send new recipes to astronauts millions of kilometers away, and have their 3D food printer cook it for them half an hour later. Further implications mean that if astronauts need a specific tool based on a problem they encounter, engineers on Earth can design the perfectly shaped object, beam it to them at the speed of light, for it to be printed in space. Insanity.
4 – 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.
5 – Saves money and food
3D printers are some of the least wasteful machines around; additive manufacturing is inherently efficient. A food 3D printer can print the exact amount of 3D printed food, 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 or not be completely used before they are thrown away.
6 – 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 as they do not spoil quickly. These ingredients are ground into a paste and then kept, ready to be 3D printed later.
This brings us to another problem; 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 the 3D printer knows what temperature to heat the extruder to. With these differing ingredients melting at different temperatures there can be problems, leading to uneven textures when food is printed.
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. There are companies who claim they are working on incorporating cooking into the printing process however, so perhaps this won’t be a limitation for long.
3D Food Printers
Though there are far more options out there, here are the three main food 3D printers on the market. This is only a brief introduction, so if you want to find out more then check out our dedicated 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 Applications 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. Think about it, 3D printed food could be the new luxury dining experience of the future.
5 time Michelin-starred chef Paco Pérez has even got on board with 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.