3D printing first made its appearance in science fiction in the early 1940s. The first writers on the subject saw it as a tool to print everything from houses to human beings.
The oldest reference of 3D printing food was in a Star Trek movie. Crew members would order food or drink from a machine they called a “replicator”.
What was once science fiction is quickly becoming reality. The smart phones and self-driving cars that first seemed like the impossible fantasies of fiction writers are here. Will we see the same thing happen with the replicators from Star Trek?
Batteries that last for days, artificial intelligence that can create art, all these started off as far off concepts. It seems like 3D printing food is next on the menu. But just how ready is the technology? Can you eat 3D printed food and does it taste good? What should we be concerned about if the concept becomes part of our everyday reality?
- Does 3D Printed Meat Taste Good?
- Is 3D Printed Food Edible?
- Can 3D Food Printer Replace Cooking?
- How Does 3D Printing Food Work? (Techniques)
- What Are Some Concerns With 3D Printed Food?
- Can use PLA Printables With Food? (Is PLA Food Safe!)
Does 3D Printed Meat Taste Good?
Most 3D printed meat is either lab-grown or plant based. It is engineered to have the same taste, texture and consistency of real meat without having been sourced from an animal. These synthesized meats are thought to be sustainable meat alternatives that will replace traditionally sourced meat.
Synthetic foods have long been a dream of science fiction. Now they are starting to become a real possibility and may just become a part of our everyday lives. There are several companies pursuing this possibility using different technologies.
Lab Grown Meat
Aleph farms is an Israeli company looking to eliminate the slaughter of animals for meat. Their solution is to produce meat from the cells of living cows.
BlueNalu is a United States based company which produces meat but from fish cells rather than beef. The fish cells are then 3D printed.
China is the biggest meat consumer in the world. CellX is a Chinese company producing animal protein from cell cultures. What Aleph and BlueNalu are doing with beef and seafood, CellX is attempting to do with pork. They are scheduled to start selling their cell cultured meat in 2025, starting with China. Source
If the idea of lab-grown meat makes you squeamish there is an alternative in meat derived from plant sources. Redefine Meat is an Israeli company using 3D printing to produce faux meat made from plant protein (peas, soybean and plant fat).
Is 3D Printed Food Edible?
3D printed food is safe for human consumption. The 3D printers used to print food work are just like conventional 3D printers. They build an object, in this case food, layer by layer. Only instead of having plastic as the raw material, the food material is used.
Can 3D Food Printer Replace Cooking?
One of the biggest limitations of 3D printing food is that it requires post-processing. In other words, you still need to cook the 3D-printed food afterward. The printers are used mostly to create structures and designs which then have to be baked, grilled or fried.
How Does 3D Printing Food Work? (Techniques)
There are several different techniques for 3D printing food and they work similarly to traditional plastic or resin printers. The main difference is of course the material. Instead of filament or resin, 3D food printers use soft or powdered raw material like jelly, cheese, potatoes, chocolate or protein powder.
The key characteristic of materials used in food printing is they have to be soft enough to extrude through a nozzle but hard enough to retain a fixed shape.
Fused deposition modeling (FDM)
FDM is the most used 3D printing technique. In it food materials are extruded through a nozzle. The food is built up in successive layers according to the set design.
Food FDM printers are available for purchase by consumers. They are, however, not quite ready for mass commercialization due to a few technical barriers so they are more of a novelty at present.
Selective laser sintering (SLS)
Similar to FDM printing, food is built up layer by layer using powder as the raw material. Unlike FDM printing which works from the top down, laser sintering hardens from the bottom up. The successive layers are bonded to each other using heat from a laser.
Compared to FDM, laser sintering can create more complex shapes and food textures. It is however, limited in application owing to it only being able to process powdered material.
FDM and SLS are two of the main processes for 3D printing food. They are by no means the only printing techniques. There have been trials with techniques such as binder jetting, inkjet printing, multi-printhead and multi-material printing. Source
At present, FDM printing shows the most promise of further development into a scalable technology with wider application.
What Are Some Concerns With 3D Printed Food?
At present, 3D printed food only works for a very limited range of foods. The process is yet to become scalable because of the limited range of materials, the length of time it takes to print, and the need to further process 3D printed food.
These are the obstacles that need to be overcome before 3D printing can become accessible or before buying your own 3D printer can make sense. With that said, 3D printing food could have some real benefits if some of those obstacles were overcome.
For one thing, it could make personal nutrition, especially for people who need a specialized diet, a lot easier.
Can use PLA Printables With Food? (Is PLA Food Safe!)
Plastic can leach toxins and transfer bacteria to food. Certain types of plastics like ABS and nylon are more toxic compared to PLA which is a food-safe plastic. PLA can be safely used to print objects that will hold food.
PETG is also a food safe plastic. However, it is more heat-resistant and durable than PLA, so you might want to consider using PETG if you need something that can stand up to heat and impact.