3D printing – the future of global food?


Is 3D printing the future of global food?

A few weeks ago, Londoners were able to eat at the world’s first 3D-printed pop-up restaurant. In early June, a German-based company introduced the word’s first plug-and-play food printer, which may be ready for shipping as early as next year. With the cost to produce this technology dropping, making it increasingly accessible, 3D printing could fundamentally change our relationship with food.

Simply put, the process uses ingredients to generate three-dimensional meals by placing layers of compounded food on top of each other. Since 2012, the food industry has used this technology to produce products, including candy, chocolate, pizza, noodles and even crackers. Despite its relative novelty, many companies are recognizing its potential – and recognizing how 3D food printing can revolutionize our global food systems.

In particular, 3D printing could radically alter food production practices by enabling companies to manage resources more responsibly and reduce waste across the food continuum – whether you are a processor, a distributor or a consumer with leftovers. Indeed, many well-known agribusiness corporations have already dedicated a great deal of time and research on 3D systems. There is a potential benefit to consumer health, as well. For example, PepsiCo recently announced that it is using 3D printing to develop a healthier potato chip.

Beyond manufacturing, 3D printing could also boost culinary creativity by allowing renowned chefs to create shapes and forms that were previously thought impossible. Some have argued that it can give the food-service industry the ability to customize products based on individual nutritional needs.

Given the demographic challenges we face in coming decades, this can become a key benefit. In Germany, many nursing homes already produce a pureed 3D-printed food product called smoothfoods to residents who have difficulty ingesting food, or even chewing them. Regular smoothies have been on the menu, but haven’t proved as popular. Elderly residents eating smoothfoods can receive all the nutrients they require while enjoying an aesthetically pleasing meal. As a result, they can live healthier, higher quality lives.

More significantly, some experts believe 3D printing could effectively address global food security challenges. Ingredients such as algae, duckweed and grass could be imbedded into familiar dishes. A recent study in Holland added milled mealworm to a shortbread cookie recipe through 3D printing – most would agree that a cookie-shaped food product is much more appetizing than the look and feel of a worm. By using insects and other protein sources, the growing need for protein the globe is currently experiencing, which adds increased pressure to beef and pork prices, could be mitigated.

3D food printing does still face major obstacles. The technology remains expensive and complex. The engineering required to produce food is much more sophisticated than producing objects with metal and plastic. Food scientists acknowledge how difficult it is to effectively make edible meals in 3D food printing – ingredients in food interact in many complex ways, particularly with meats. At this point, 3D food printers are not known to produce great tasting food, and still do not have the overwhelming endorsement of the culinary world.

However, the technology is improving at an incredible pace, allowing us to believe that very soon, anything might be possible.

The concept of 3D printed food is foreign to many of us, and may challenge our collective appreciation of where food comes from, and how it is produced. Let’s face it – when it comes to food, we are all traditionalists to some extent, protective of our food heritage. Printing food is a drastic departure from the art of cooking as a way of celebrating nature’s bounty.

But the reality is that in just a few years, we will have more than nine billion people to feed. One way to responsibly address global food security challenges is to consider technology as a primary source for sustainable solutions. Treating alternatives to established food production systems as mere fads may not be the best approach.

After all, the future of the dinner table may be as different, and as simple as “Press print and eat.”


by SYLVAIN CHARLEBOIS | Jun. 17, 2015 10:39AM EDT

The different ways 3D printed food

“I see it as something that really will become a part of the culinary fabric for years to come” – Liz von Hasseln, creative director at 3D Systems


Journey to the frontier of food and you’ll find a 3-D printer, spewing out chocolate. While traditional cooking isn’t going anywhere, you can count on 3-D-printed foods eventually finding a place in our world.

Researchers around the world are fiddling with ways to use 3-D printers to make food. Their efforts could one day aid nutrition and sustainability.  So far most of the work is in printing sugar and chocolate. And consumers can’t just go out and buy an affordable 3-D printer to make dinner tonight, let alone dessert. But the growing momentum and early creations hint at something that will change the way we 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,” said Liz von Hasseln, the creative director of the Sugar Lab at 3D Systems. “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 five interesting ways the precision of 3-D printers can be used to make foods:

1. Wedding cake toppers

For those who want their special day to be especially unique, 3-D printing is here to help. Why have the same old plastic figurine of a bride and groom on your cake when you could have one 3-D printed that is an exact replica of the couple?

There are other ways to be creative and personalized. Here’s a topper from the Sugar Lab that matches a bride’s veil.

2. Food that’s easy to swallow, but looks good

For senior citizens with chewing or swallowing problems, they’re often forced to eat foods in puree form.

“Those blobs of puree that they get on a plate don’t look very appetizing and as a result these people which already have problems eating don’t eat enough because it doesn’t look very attractive,” said Kjeld van Bommel, a research scientist at the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research. “They get malnourished in certain cases, which then leads to all sorts of medical conditions.”

Van Bommel and other researchers have begun to take carrots, peas and broccoli, mash them up and then 3-D print them. Then they’re softer, but hold their shape due to a gelling agent. The 3-D-printed vegetables are currently being served at retirement homes in Germany.

3. Customized nutrition

Currently there’s a focus on form, color and flavor, but the exactness 3-D printing allows could deliver exact dosages of vitamins or drugs.

“We can see a time when you might be wearing technology that would be sensing what your body needs at any given time, whether you’re an athlete or whether you have a medical condition or whether you’re elderly,” von Hasseln said. “And that could theoretically link up to your printer at home and when you get home a specialized meal could be waiting for you that provides exactly what your body needs.”

“You’ll be able to say when I wake up in the morning I want the printer to print my breakfast and I want it to have the right amount of trans fats, whatever we need,” said  Hod Lipson, the director of Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab. “This is where software meets cooking and the possibilities are really limitless.”

4. Sustainable foods

Van Bommel is researching whether alternative protein sources from algae and insects could be transformed into interesting foods with a texture people will like.

“If Western consumption levels of meat would apply to the whole world we would have a huge problem,” he said. “We would not be able to have so many cows. Where would you stick all these cows and what grass would they eat?”

5. Cocktail garnishes

It’s possible to 3-D print a sugar lattice that a mixologist inserts into the glass. The rest of the cocktail ingredients are chosen with respect to the impact of the sugar, which melts into the drink.

“It adds to the kind of performance that mixologists are interested in. That pomp of serving a custom cocktail,” said von Hasseln. She describes her favorite 3-D creations as ones like this, that merge the traditional world of food with 3-D printings capabilities.

Her company will begin selling a 3-D printer for food later this year. With a price tag of about $20,000, it’s expected to appeal to culinary professional, not average consumer. 3D Systems is opening a custom bakery in Los Angeles this summer to serve as a showroom and event space to educate visitors about 3-D printed food. She expects one day we’ll be able to 3-D print other edibles such as starches, proteins and spices.

 | January 28

3D printed meat for vegetarians?

A number of vegetarians and vegans weigh in on a debate still in its infancy; Is it OK to eat 3D printing meat?



In August, the first lab-grown beefburger was cooked and tasted in London. The verdict? “[It tasted] like an animal protein cake, said Josh Schonwald, author of The Taste of Tomorrowand one of the “lucky” few to taste the $330,000 morsel of petri dish meat.

The future of slaughter-less meat is not far off. In fact, scientists project it could be in the aisles of our supermarkets in 10 to 20 years. In today’s talk, Andras Forgacs, CEO and co-founder of Modern Meadow, explains the process of biofabrication and asks an interesting question: “What if, instead of starting with a complex, sentient animal, we started with what the tissues are made of, the basic unit of life, the cell?” Biofabrication, he says, signals the rise of a new industry that is both sustainable and humane and could radically change a society and environment shaped by the consumption of animals.

Yet, there are still many questions left unanswered. Would printed meat circumvent religious dietary rulings? Would it be considered Kosher or Halal? PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is positive about the future of lab-grown meat. So much so, it is offering a $1 million dollar reward to the first person to make commercially viable in vitro chicken meat by March 1, 2014.

And how about vegetarians? How might they feel about a new dietary prospect? We asked 7 TED vegetarians to consider the scenario of lab-grown meat. Here are their thoughts:

Amy Short wouldn’t eat printed meat, seeing it as just another processed food product.

“As a 20-year vegan who is not interested in meat and generally avoids meat analogs, I doubt I’d consume 3D printed meat. I’m most interested in whole foods that are true to nature and as unmolested and unmodified as possible.  I avoid processed foods and 3D printed meat is at its core a processed food product.”

Emilie Soffe would consider eating printed meat, and hopes it might stop crazy arguments about food production.

“It can feel overwhelming to look at a machine like factory farming and feel helpless against it. Incredibly smart, compassionate people are still buying into this system and it remains such a fiery, personal issue, as food is wrapped up in difficult things like culture, tradition and personal preference. It would feel much better occupying a world where both sides are satisfied with one system. I don’t have much of a desire to eat meat, anymore, so I don’t know if the introduction of this technology would change my current diet much. Maybe I’d splurge on a good, guilt-free filet mignon every once in a while.”

Morton Bast is a very-nearly-vegetarian who keeps kosher. She can’t wait to see how religion and technology collide.

“I’m waiting for the rabbinic ruling on this one. 10,000 points to the first rabbi hip enough to come out and declare a stance on the theological implications of printed meat. If it’s kosher, I’m in, but something tells me it will be a while. Truthfully, I’m desperately curious about the answer. It’s exhilarating and awesome to watch a concept as futuristic as printed meat come into contact with a concept as old as religious tradition. Reconciling them is awkward, but in a way it captures something deeply important. How do we bring what is comfortable and beloved with us into a world that is unfamiliar and new? This is definitely a match I want courtside seats for!”

Nick Weinberg is a lifelong vegetarian. Printed meat still wouldn’t cut it for him.

“I wouldn’t eat printed meat. My decision to be a vegetarian is not based on the ethical issues that surround it. It has always been the texture of meat and the idea of me actually cutting into it that has creeped me out. I’ve never been one to wear a leather jacket, but I do own a couple pairs of leather/suede shoes. I’d be up for trying printed leather.”

Jordan Reeves thinks he’ll rest a lot more easily when printed meat is a reality.

“I come from Alabama, a land where the standard ‘meat and 3’ is the only available option. The only people who ordered a veggie plate were the little old ladies who ventured out once a week — lunch with their Sunday school class after church, perhaps. We had meat with every meal, and it was also a staple in most of our snack foods. I bled BBQ sauce. Then, about two years ago, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I pledged to never, ever eat an animal again. Currently, I spend a large amount of my time and energy to educating myself about vegetarianism and the humane treatment of animals. Not only would this be a cathartic culmination of that scholarship, but it could potentially disrupt the destruction of the environment. I literally lie awake at night worrying about the natural world’s future. I think one of the most detrimental forces to the earth is the factory farming institution. If printed leather became a thing, I could sleep at night!

To her own amazement, lifelong vegetarian Kate Torgovnick thinks she’d try printed meat.

“When I read about Andras Forgacs’ talk in the TEDGlobal program, I thought: ‘this guy is nuts’ and the idea was futuristically creepy. Then I watched the talk and saw that his idea is so much subtler than I first realized. Taking a biopsy of tissue doesn’t harm an animal, reproducing the tissues from it and then growing them en masse creates a material that is in many ways better than the original. If it catches on, this is a way out of the mass raise-and-slaughter paradigm. So I am surprised to say that I would eat printed meat. As weird as it might feel at first, if no animal is harmed in the process, I am fine with it. I have no idea what a real hamburger or bacon tastes like, and would like to be in the know. I’m also curious, can printed meat even be healthier than real meat?

Mark Bogdanoff is a lifelong vegetarian. He says no to printed meat, but he’s happy it’s happening.

“I’ve never intentionally eaten meat and don’t intend to. I do eat vegetarian meats such as veggie burgers or sausages, but not a lot. And, I generally enjoy the alternatives that aren’t even really trying to be meat. I have nothing to measure against so I just go for what’s healthy and tastes good. So, I’m just not that interested in printed meat that’s trying to be real meat. Am I glad it’s starting to exist? Very. I hope it becomes a method by which we can stop killing animals for food.”

by  | September 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm EDT