Printing my takeout

The biggest challenge is most probably mass acceptance. 3D printed food brings a new paradigm shift, and many people are still not ready for this behaviour change


It’s Saturday night and while watching your favourite movie, an advert of a delicious pizza pops up on TV. The crust is cooked to perfection, and its centre is covered with some incredible tomato sauce.

It looks so flavourful that you could name some of the ingredients; basil, olive oil, and fresh garlic evenly distributed inside this Italian goodness.

On top of that, one can admire the mozzarella cheese melting, fusing, and forming light brown blisters orchestrated like a symphony with the help of the heat.

Then the best part is the pepperoni which is way thicker than usual since they were imported straight from their homeland, Italy.

You decide to switch on the scent diffuser on your TV; the smell of wood-fired baked pizza fills the room and reaches every corner of your lungs.

Enough with this torture, you want one! So you instruct the 3D food printer to print you one, and you’re savouring this godly food in no time.

This might sound too-good-to-be-true, but in reality, the underlying technology is already available and can be bought today.

The only problem with today’s technology is that it is still very rough, and there are some limitations which I will explain below.

Thus, it will take us a few more years until we can print a delicious pizza similar to the scenario described earlier.

Scent printing has been around for over a decade. Sony developed a system which uses an electronic nose sensor capable of detecting and capturing smells.

It then reproduces them using aroma-based inks on special postcard-sized photo paper.

However, digital scent technology still poses many challenges.

We still need to understand how mammals smell, the distribution of scents around a room is problematic, and the safety of synthetic odours is questionable.   

3D printed food is a totally different story. These printers are capable of making various dishes using different pastes and materials.

The list includes chocolate, pasta, sweets and many more. The advantages of using such a system are numerous.

From an aesthetic perspective, food can be created in any complex shape and form desirable.

In fact, such printers offer chefs the freedom of design which was unheard of with traditional cooking techniques. The aesthetics of the food is not only significant in Michelin Star restaurants.

Whoever has children knows that a child is more likely to eat dinosaur-shaped broccoli rather than the traditional and boring tree-like ones.

Health is another critical element since the ingredients of the actual food item can be decided before printing the dish.

This will help people to make healthier choices by substituting some ingredients with others, and they can also insert new ones to maintain a similar taste.

The machine will also record what has been produced and keep an exact count of the calories consumed. Some insurance companies already reward people who lead a healthy lifestyle, and such a printer can contribute to that.

But whereas some people choose to eat specific foods, other people don’t really have a choice. In fact, the rate of gluten and dairy-free conditions (to name a few) are on the rise.

With 3D printed food, the ingredients which harm the person can be excluded easily. This is also extremely important in hospitals, where they have to cook thousands of meals daily.

With this technology, meals can be adapted to the patient’s individual nutritional needs which will then help speed up the recovery.

Since some patients might experience difficulties in chewing, the food can be printed using a more pleasant consistency, thus increasing the standard of living of the patient.

Furthermore, since most of these people are on medication, integrating medicine in the food they consume might be more straightforward, especially when dealing with children (who find swallowing drugs problematic).

Printed food might also help in our fight against climate change. It is a known fact that most food sources such as meat, vegetables, etc. require lots of water to produce.

Because of this, we can go for other sources such as insects which are high in protein, but many people (especially those in the western world) are reluctant to give it a try. 3D printers can quickly turn a bunch of locusts into an Argentinian steak lookalike.

Food waste is another issue which these printers might address.

Sometimes, food is still good for consumption but simply not “nice” enough to be sold. 3D printing will repurpose these leftovers into new shapes, thus making them appetising for eating plus keeping them in the food chain.

As we’ve seen above, the era of experimental cuisine is taking a whole new different level. However, we still have several limitations.

The printing works fine, but the food will need to be cooked separately before consumption.

The biggest challenge is most probably mass acceptance. 3D printed food brings a new paradigm shift, and many people are still not ready for this behaviour change.

There is still a lot of scepticism about the ingredients used, which in most cases do not resemble the natural product.

The technology is almost there, and it is only a matter of time now before we start seeing 3D Printers next to our microwave.

Once we do, it will only be a matter of downloading a Jamie Oliver recipe, print it and eat it in front of our favourite movie.   

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