Scientists are taking 3D printing to a new level, this time with food. Engineers at Columbia University announced in a newly released study that they have successfully created an edible and possibly delicious cheesecake by using cartridges of food paste and powder in the printer.
The experiments did not stop at cheesecake but instead extended to other desserts and meats. According to a study published in the NPJ Science of Food, cooking food through a medium such as a 3D printer allows for better control over the nutritional content, leading to healthier food consumption.
“This food printing movement is just starting,” Jonathan Blutinger, an engineer at Columbia’s Creative Machines Lab in New York, said in an email to Gizmodo. He added that the technology is starting with manufacturers as plant-based products and will then move to restaurants where chefs “can create new flavor experiences for patrons and delectable dishes that are made to order,” and finally, “it will find its way into our homes as a kitchen appliance.”
Printing food has additional benefits and according to the study, “more emphasis on food safety following COVID-19, food prepared with less human handling may lower the risk of foodborne illness and disease transmission.”
3D printers first emerged in the 1980s as a means to create much-needed materials like plastic, rubber, metal, and concrete. But over time uses have grown as engineers and scientists explore using 3D printers to create medicine and even human organs. Engineers began experimenting with food in 2007 and the first commercially available chocolate 3D printer was launched in 2012.
As the possibilities for food printing become endless, the study says it has other potential benefits such as “creating alternatives to bland, unattractive pureed foods for those with swallowing and other digestive disorders.” It could also provide an environmentally friendly alternative to highly-priced processed foods by producing “plant-based meats, algae, and lower-cost unconventional proteins to consumers.”
Food created by 3D printers could also have an extended shelf life, the report states, and could reduce food waste since consumers would have the option to print only the amount of food they need. “The cheesecake is the best thing we can showcase right now, but the printer can do a whole lot more,” Blutinger told The Guardian. “We can print chicken, beef, vegetables, and cheese. Anything that can be turned into a paste, liquid, or powder.”
The future is wide open for 3D food and is gaining the forward momentum that will bring the quality and extent of its availability to the next level. “I think it’s an inevitability. Once software touches an industry, we don’t look back,” Blutinger told the outlet.
“It propels it forward in ways we never thought possible. That hasn’t really happened for food yet. The vision is to have a food printer mixed with a laser cooker that can be a one-stop-shop sort of kitchen appliance. It’s your own personal digital chef.”
Updated: 3/23 9:02 a.m. to include comment from Jonathan Blutinger