Hungry? Why wait? You may soon be able to print food on-demand right from your kitchen.
Actually having to cook your meals is about to become so last year. Food may soon find its way onto your plate and into your mouth in a number of ways that never have to boil in a pot, sear in a pan, or bake in the oven. In fact, the emergence of 3D printing may one day allow these desktop machines as ubiquitous as that microwave you have sitting on your counter.
Who recalls during Back to the Future when Marty McFly’s mother pops a four-inch pizza into a hydrator that, in just a matter of seconds, came out the full size of a conventional pizza. And while such a Black & Decker machine, or a Star Trek-like replicator for that matter, have yet to go mainstream, the dream of printing your own on-demand food is inching its way closer, thanks to companies like XYZprinting, Natural Machines and 3D Systems.
More recently, innovators around the world have been exploring various ways to use 3D printers — many of which powered by AVR and Atmel | SMART microcontrollers — in order to craft edible items. Though these efforts have mostly produced chocolate, sugar, pasta and pizza, one day researchers hope that the technology may even lend a helping hand in nutrition and long-term sustainability. Take for instance, easy-to-chew meals for senior citizens who have trouble consuming anything other than things in puree form. New developments in printed food will enable the elderly in retirement and assisted living communities to enjoy tasty melt-in-your-mouth food from fresh ingredients using a 3D printer. Furthermore, these devices will be able to provide customized diet to individuals, giving them the exact dosages of nutrients. Not to mention, scientists hope that 3D-printed fare may revolutionize space travel as well, especially for long duration missions.
These sort of gadgets don’t stray too far from regular 3D printers either. Instead of extruding plastic filaments, these next-gen systems will emit edible ingredients. At the moment, however, a vast majority of these gadgets are only designed to take care of the tedious and time-consuming parts of meal preparation, not so much a “just press the button and magically appear” sort of thing we can all hope for… yet. Future models, though, will likely be able to complete the process so that the extruded items are ready to eat.
“I don’t see this as a novelty. I see it as something that really will become a part of the culinary fabric for years to come,” Liz von Hasseln of 3D Systems summed it up best in a recent interview with the Washington Post. “I think the way that happens really powerfully is when it impacts kind of the cultural ritual of eating which is actually a really powerful part of being a person in the world.”
Here are some of the machines leading the way…
Natural Machines’ Foodini
Designed for both home and professional kitchens, Foodini comes with empty food capsules. Users simply prepare and place fresh, real ingredients inside, which are then dispensed from the machine. Other than being capable of creating complex designs, such as very detailed cake decorations or uniquely-shaped gourmet items, the Foodini can be useful for recipes that require precision and mastery, like homemade pizza or filled pasta. The printer takes on the daunting parts of making meals, therefore streamlining some of cooking’s more repetitive activities.
3D Systems’ ChefJet
The ChefJet is an entirely new, kitchen-ready category of 3D printers for food. The first two printers in the series, with expected availability in the second half of the year, are the monochrome, countertop ChefJet 3D printer and the full-color, larger format ChefJet Pro 3D printer. These machines were designed with the professional baker, pastry chef, mixologist and restaurateur in mind, enabling the creation of custom edible geometries for every cake, cocktail and dinner celebration. The printer can also create 3D candies in a variety of flavors such as mint, sour cherry, and vanilla, as well as sugar objects that resemble expensive china.
Designed by four undergraduate students from the Imperial College in London, F3D (pronounced “fed”) is the latest food printing research project that has set out to revolutionize the way we prepare our food. Unlike some of the more commercial-ready devices on this list, the Makers modified existing RepRap 3D printing technology to create a food printer capable of 3D printing and cooking a complete dish. F3D proved its potential by 3D printing an entire pizza – dough, sauce, cheese and all – in under 20 minutes. Beat that Domino’s! Though still in its prototype phase, this student-made project is impressive, nonetheless.
XYZprinting’s Food Printer
The latest machine from XYZprinting allows users to create various 3D shapes out their food. The company says it has worked with a food specialist, and devised a proprietary recipe that can be used in single or triple material versions. The machine is equipped with a touch display that lets home chefs select a pre-set design for the shape of their edible item. Those who rather import their own designs may do so online or via a USB drive. Even more, the printer can output one cookable object at a time, before going ahead and making an entire batch.
NASA-Funded Food Printer
Back in 2013, NASA funded a 3D food printer project by Austin, Texas-based Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC), in an effort to one day offer astronauts some freshly cooked food up in space. Using an open-source RepRap 3D printer, the team of Makers replaced its existing ink cartridges with printable ingredients comprised of powdered bases mixed with oil and water. These were then printed with modified extruder nozzles, while a heated plate as its bed cooked the food as it is printed. Impressively, it only took about 12 minutes to put together the dough, sauce and cheese.
Choc Edge’s Choc Creator
With aspirations of “creating chocolate in style,” the UK-based Choc Edge team has been a notable pioneer in the industry. In fact, the company released the world’s first commercially available chocolate printer back in 2012. At the time, the machine was capable of printing both two- and three-dimensional cocoa creations. Now, it has returned to the chocolatier scene with a new model. This printer boasts an easy-to-use syringe head that allows users to easily install and remove units, as well as refill the syringe with fresh chocolate within 10 minutes. The latest version also boasts a new automatic temperature control system, ensuring optimal flow in the printing process along with a closed compartment to help maintain consistent temperatures.
The very first version of the open-source PancakeBot was designed way back in 2010 by Miguel Valenzuela. At the time, Valenzuela was inspired by a MAKE: Magazine feature on a British Maker who devised a Pancake Stamping Machine using LEGO. Since then, the machine has become a Maker sensation, claiming the hearts and stomachs of everyone — including President Obama himself. The original bot was simply a CNC for a kitchen table, comprised of LEGO Mindstorms, LEGO bricks and a pair of ketchup bottles for the batter. As you can imagine with any automated device whipping up tasty treats, the initial video of Valenzuela’s PancakeBot 1.0 went viral, which encouraged the Maker to continue tinkering with the design. The next iteration of the platform – which debuted at Maker Faire Bay Area 2014 – consisted of an acrylic body packed with Adafruit motor shields, an Arduino Mega (ATmega1280), two stepper motors, a pair of belt drives and a vacuum pump. The improved PancakeBot could be programmed to draw out any flapjack design, ranging from an Eiffel Tower to a self-portrait. The printer simply squirts batter onto a hotplate so that, once the pancakes are done extruding, they’re ready to eat. While earlier models are not available for sale, the PancakeBot team has partnered with StoreBound to bring the robotic contraption to market.
During CES 2015, 3D Systems revealed its latest chocolate printer, the CocoJet, in collaboration with Hershey. The device, which was particularly aimed at candy makers and bakers, dispenses delicious liquid chocolate just as any other 3D printer would extrude filament. Users can choose between dark, milk or white chocolate and between pre-programmed designs or confections of their own creative devising.
Biozoon’s Smoothfood Printer
One German company has produced a 3D printer capable of printing out dozens of different meals, all made of a gelatin base, for senior citizens and others who have difficulties chewing food. Fortunately, this food will literally melt in a person’s mouth. With funding from the EU, the project uses 48 nozzles, liquified food and a gelling agent to recreate the shape and taste of something that would otherwise be difficult to swallow, ranging from chicken to broccoli to lamb. The project, called PERFORMANCE, is intended to give elderly people better access to appealing and nutritious food. Since its inception, Biozoon’s devices have been adopted in over 1,000 care homes throughout the country.
Dovetailed’s Fruit Printer
Unlike a number of other projects on this list that focus around sweets, Dovetailed revealed a new approach to 3D-printed food last spring: fruit. Using spherification technology, the Cambridge-based firm combined strawberry flavoring with a sodium rich gel to deposit little balls into a cold calcium chloride solution to create something that resembled the likeness of a raspberry. The device is programmed to print blackberries and was in the process of working on apples and pears as well.
Open Electronics’ 3Drag
As we experienced (and tasted) first-hand back at World Maker Faire 2014, the 3Drag has officially made three-dimensional chocolate shapes a reality. Modified with a real pastry bag for precision bakery work or a heated syringe, 3Drag is suitable for plotting lettering and lines using any type of chocolate like milk, white and dark. All this, with the advantage to design the object or the pastry directly in computer graphic. Based on an ATmega2560, the device is fitted a special extruder (which replaces the one typically used for extruding plastic materials) with a very common 60 ml syringe. A NEMA17 stepper motor drives its piston and a heater to maintain the chocolate contained in the syringe at its appropriate temperature.
Structur3D’s Discov3ry Extruder
Structur3D launched a 3D printer add-on, which could create a paste from all sorts of materials such as plastic, silicone, wood filler, and even Nutella. In fact, at last year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, the startup demonstrated how it could print the Maker Faire logo with the delicious hazelnut spread.
Barilla’s 3D Pasta Printer
One of, if the top, pasta seller in the world is in the process of developing a 3D pasta printer for restaurants. The machine would be able to print 15 to 20 pieces every two minutes, getting a pasta dish to a patron in a matter of minutes. It would also allow for custom-designed pasta shapes, ranging from roses to moons.
Cornell Creative Machine Lab’s Food Printer
One of the earliest on the scene back in 2011, Cornell Creative Machines Lab developed 3D printer that could generate tiny space shuttle-shaped scallop nuggets as well as cakes or cookies that, when cut into, reveal a special message — whether a wedding proposal, someone’s initials or even a logo for a corporate event. Additionally, the CCML team could make a solid hamburger patty, with liquid layers of ketchup and mustard, or a hamburger substitute that’s made from vegan or raw foods.
Zmorph’s Cake and Chocolate Extruder
The ZMorph Personal Fabricator embodies a modular makeup, which enables a user to easily detach and swap out a number of extruders. The various toolheads let Makers to print with everything from pastry to chocolate to marmalade. What’s more, the add-ons can fabricate signs on cakes or their own food design in a matter of minutes.
Mondelez International’s Oreo Printer
And who could forget 3D-printed Oreos? At SXSW 2014, Mondelez International had 3D-printed custom Oreo cookies based on what was trending on Twitter with the hashtag #eatthetweet. Attendees could choose from 12 flavors, ranging from banana to mint to lime, and then select either a chocolate or vanilla base for the cookie. The cookie would then be printed in a couple of minutes.