Imagine being able to print a perfectly portioned, replica of your favorite food items. Now, that is what food 3D printing brings to the table! It’s a new and innovative way of printing food that is sure to change the culinary world as we know it. Here’s everything you need to know about this new technology.
What is Food 3D Printing?
Or asked another way, can 3D printers print food? They can, and the range of items is quite broad, from small snacks to full-on meals. Anything that can be put into a cartridge and extruded through a nozzle can be printed. For those looking for a full definition of food 3D printing, here we go:
3D Food Printing Definition
3D food printing means the creation of three-dimensional, edible objects from food material. The food material is extruded through a nozzle as paste, (or laser sintered, among other techniques), layer after layer. This happens until the required food size and shape is achieved.
Just like in standard 3D printing, the food printing process uses a computer-aided design (CAD) file as a blueprint. This file is then used to guide the food material through the 3D printer nozzle during extrusion; but more on that later.
History of 3D Printing Food
It all started as research by NASA to find a way of 3D printing food in space. The main idea was to have a lightweight 3D food printer that could print food for astronauts on long space missions.
By 2007, the momentum to make food 3D printers had picked up, and multiple companies had been founded. In 2013, the 3D food printing technology was already commonplace, with machines available to the general public.
Fast forward to today, a decade later, and you can walk into a food 3D printing restaurant in a major city, or order a 3D printed pizza delivered to your home. Enthusiasts are even printing food in their own homes!
How Does Food 3D Printing Work?
Food 3D printing introduced a new way of thinking about food and how it can be created. It allows you to be in complete control of the shape, size, and ingredients of your food. Plus, it opens up a world of possibilities when it comes to customizing meals. Here is how 3D printing food works and how to go about it.
3D Food Printing Technology
The working principle behind food 3D printers is similar to that of regular 3D printers. That is, both use additive manufacturing processes to create three-dimensional objects.
Only that, instead of using plastic filament, a food 3D printing machine uses food-grade materials and edibles to do that. These can be in the form of powder, paste, or liquid.
The material is then extruded through a nozzle, and layer by layered to achieve the required food structure. The beauty of 3D printing food is that it allows for great accuracy and precision when it comes to replicating shapes and designs. The ingredients that you can use include:
- Powdered sugar
- Cocoa powder
- Mashed potatoes
- Tomato paste
These are just some of the most commonly used 3D printed food ingredients. With that said, the list is ever-growing as new food 3D printers and recipes are being developed.
3D Printer for Food
As with any other type of 3D printer, there are different types of 3D printers for food. The most common ones include extrusion-based printers, binder jetting types, and laser based sintering 3D printer. Here is how each works.
Extrusion-Based 3D Food Printers
This type of 3D printer for food works by extruding the food material through a, most often, syringe-like nozzle. Good for foods that possess a higher viscosity and can hold shape such as jelly, puree, and mashed potatoes.
Binder Jetting 3D Food Printers
A binding agent is used to bind food powder particles together to form the desired shape. This type of 3D food printing machine is best for low viscosity liquids like sauces and even food ink.
Laser Sintering 3D Food Printers
A laser is used to heat the powder and cause the particles to fuse and the mass solidifies. The process is then repeated layer after layer. The printer is best suited for materials that are in powder forms such as protein powder, chocolate, sugar, and some spices.
How to 3D Print Food
So, now that you know the basics of how food 3D printing works, here is a step-by-step guide on how to go about it.
1. Choose your 3D food printer: As mentioned above, there are different types of these printers on the market. Choose the one that best suits your needs, or should we say your taste!
2. Choose your 3D printed food ingredients: This will depend on the type of 3D printer you have. Filament-based 3D printers can use a variety of materials, while powder-based 3D printers require powdered material.
3. Choose your design: This is where the fun begins! You can either create your own design using CAD download one from the internet. There are plenty of websites that offer free 3D food models.
4. Print your food: Once you have your design, simply hit the “print” button and let the 3D printer do its job.
5. Enjoy your meal: And that’s it! Now you can sit back and enjoy your delicious, 3D-printed meal.
Is 3D Printing Food Safe?
Now, the big question is, is 3D printing food safe? The short answer is yes. 3D printing food is no different from eating any other type of food. The only difference is how the food is made.
With that said, some safety concerns need to be considered. For example, if you are using a filament-based 3D printer, you need to make sure that the material you are using is food-grade. This means that it is safe to eat and will not cause any health problems.
Another safety concern to consider is cross-contamination. This can happen when different materials are used in the same 3D printer. For instance, if you are using a printer to print both food and non-food items, there is a risk of cross-contamination.
What 3D Printing Material is Safe?
As mentioned above, it is important to use food-grade materials when 3D printing food. But what exactly does this mean?
Food-grade means that the material is safe to eat and will not cause any health problems. There are different food-grade standards, depending on the country.
In the United States, the FDA has a set of standards that all food-grade materials must meet.
When it comes to 3D printing, the most common food-grade materials are plastics. This includes PLA and ABS plastic, both of which are safe to eat. Other food-grade materials include metals, ceramics, and glass.
How is 3D printing Used in the Food Industry?
The fact that you can 3D print food is amazing in itself. But that’s not the only benefit of 3D printing food.
- One of the major benefits of printed food is that it’s highly customizable. Whether you want a certain shape, size, or flavor, 3D printing food gives you the freedom to create the perfect meal.
- Most importantly, you get to choose what goes into your food. This is great for people with allergies or specific dietary requirements, such as athletes, people with specific medical conditions, and children.
- 3D food printing also reduces waste! That’s because you can 3D print food exactly to your needs, which is good for the environment and your wallet, unlike when you buy pre-made meals that come in fixed portions.
- 3D-printed food is convenient, too. You can print your food ahead of time and store it in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to eat it. This is great for busy people who don’t have time to cook every day.
- We must not forget this one major benefit of printing food: that it can be used to change food to a more appealing form. 3D printed food examples that offer this benefit include using insect powder to print protein rich-foods.
Of course, there are also some drawbacks to 3D printing food. One of the biggest disadvantages of 3D food printing is that it’s not yet a widely available technology. This means that not many people have access to it. Some foods may also be difficult to print.
Food 3D printing is an exciting technology with many potential applications. It has the potential to revolutionize the food industry and make food production more efficient and sustainable. What’s more, the technology is available for use by both businesses and enthusiasts, with the cost of 3D printers and 3D printing services falling all the time.