3D Printing Creates Edible Masterpieces

June 17, 2023
David Sunnyside

Whether it’s tiny space shuttles made of scallops or a cake decoration that looks like an actual bride and groom, people are using 3D printers to create all kinds of decorative items.

FDM and SLA printing technology has reached a price point that is affordable to consumers, hobbyists and educators.

1. Fruits

We’ve all heard of people making works of art from tin cans, bricks and beds but it’s possible we could be seeing more work of this kind made from food in the future. A company called Dovetailed has been working on a 3D printer that prints ‘fruit’.

The process works a little bit like computer-aided design software does, with a virtual model being created that the printer can read and follow. Different materials can then be printed onto the object until it takes shape, with a range of food textures and shapes being possible.

2. Vegetables

Across multiple industries, 3D printing has ushered in an era of hyper-customization. Car manufacturers produce hyper-detailed parts, and clothing and shoe companies make tailored pieces that align with a customer’s exact specifications.

Researchers are now using the same technology to create food that looks and tastes like it came straight out of a top-tier restaurant. They are even creating meals tailored to a person’s nutritional needs or preferences.

They’re also working to print food for people with difficulty swallowing, a condition called dysphagia. But it’s not as easy as pumping ingredients through a printer’s tubing and nozzles.

3. Meat

One of the biggest challenges for alternative meat companies is mimicking real meat's texture, juiciness and flavor. But Israeli start-up Redefine Meat has made a name for itself with its meat printers, and has even partnered with an importer to drive European distribution of its steak cuts.

The team uses a combination of extrusion and binding jetting to create the printed meat. The meat is made from cultured animal cells, and no animals are harmed in the process. This is good news for those who want to reduce their reliance on traditional livestock, which accounts for 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

4. Fish

3D printing is commonly used to create plastic figurines and mold patterns, but it has also been used to print food. The printers used in the latter case feature extruders filled with malleable ingredients such as chocolate, frosting or soft dough that follow a virtual blueprint for building objects.

In the future, companies like Steakholder Foods and Umami Meats could use this technology to make ready-to-cook fish fillets that look, taste and flakiness of real fish. The fillets would be cultivated in a lab rather than caught in the wild, which will allow people to consume the protein they need without endangering the environment or stalking dwindling fish populations.

5. Bread

The ability to turn bread into edible art may seem like a novel idea. However, it is actually a trend that has already gained popularity.

The food 3D printing process uses a food capsule that holds the “food ink”. The food ink is then forced through a nozzle and deposited on a food platform, layer by layer, according to a pre-designed shape controlled by the operation system.

This research aims to evaluate the impact of the dough’s rheological properties on its ability to print 3D figures with stability, both during printing and after baking. Additionally, it aims to enrich gluten-free printed breads with rosehip (Rosa canina) as a source of bioactive compounds.

6. Pastries

While pastry chefs have been creating molded cakes and other desserts for decades, the use of 3D printing is facilitating new ideas and advancements. From customized wedding cake toppers to replicating the Iron Throne for Game of Thrones fans, pastry chefs are finding creative ways to reinvent their recipes and impress their clients.

Researchers have even been able to create a fully baked, seven-ingredient vegan cheesecake. And while the machines needed to assemble and bake the dessert aren’t yet available in home kitchens, the research is promising. This is the future of food, after all.

7. Drinks

An engineering lab and a culinary school have teamed up to construct edible masterpieces with 3D printers that use pureed foods instead of ink. From miniature space shuttles made of scallops and cheese to printed line art on foam-topped drinks, the results are amazing.

Print a Drink is an industrial 3-D printer that uses methods from robotics and design to explore the new world of 3D printing for drinks. The process takes less than a minute to build complex liquid shapes in cocktails. The shape jiggles in your drink but remains intact as you swirl the beverage around it.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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