Can you 3D print food and drink?

In recent years, the innovative world of 3D printing has expanded and developed so much that we are now seeing the creation of edible produce. 3D food printing not only offers a wide range of health benefits but is also kind to the environment.

Naturally occurring ingredients such as insects, algae, leaves and more can be converted via 3D printing into consumable goods. The potential to both create and customise food to meet individual dietary needs has never been greater. 3D printed produce enables us to begin reinventing the way we prepare, cook and experience food in so many ways. From food texture, shape, taste and vision, this technology offers new opportunities to change the way we eat.

Meat consumption can become more sustainable, with trials demonstrating that printed meat can reduce greenhouse emissions by an incredible 96 per cent. Food products can be created with the precise nutritional value and portion size for individuals to combat not only famine and disease, but also overconsumption.

The possibilities are seemingly endless when it comes to 3D printing food, and the technology without doubt will continue to surpass our expectations in the future. However, while the new and exciting world of 3D printed food has so much potential, there are factors to consider which could present challenges

When it comes to everyday 3D printing the key elements are speed and reliability which, when combined, create the perfect product. 3D printed food however considers two more integral components; the cost and the safety of the produce. Reliability is one aspect of 3D printing that is almost always guaranteed with every print being as precise as the previous one. When it comes to food production, it is particularly important as the exact measurements of the product – to the last milligram – can be achieved every time. The only issue that may occur is in the consistency and achieving the correct structure every time, but that depends on the ingredients used.

An issue that the majority of 3D printers face has always been speed, something that quickly becomes apparent when it comes to food production. If 3D printed food were to be used in a consumer setting, like a restaurant, the speed of production would need to increase dramatically to keep up with orders. Currently, 3D printing methods function too slowly to meet that demand.

As with any product, cost is everything. When it comes to food-specific 3D printers, there is a high price to pay. Over the years, models have become more affordable to the general public and it is likely food-specific printers will follow suit.

For the time being many people are choosing to adapt the technology they have already when printing food. That can prompt questions on the health and safety element of production because the printer must be clean to avoid cross contamination or spreading residual bacteria.

Without a doubt, 3D printing food and drink offers a range of new possibilities such as intricate designs, mass manufacturing, automated cooking and personalised meals. However, like most 3D printing technology, it still has a distance to travel before its true potential can be realised.

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