As 3D printers become cheaper, faster and more sophisticated, they are increasingly becoming a source of innovation in a wide range of areas, including food production.
This is one of the conclusions from a recent symposium hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists in the US.
Though not widely used in food manufacture, the application of 3D printing is steadily growing, and the increased availability is fuelling research into how the technology can be used in the food industry. Hod Lipson, Ph.D, a professor of engineering at Columbia University, noted how it allows manufacturers to bring complexity, variety and personalisation to consumers’ food, whilst maintaining low costs.
According to Lipson, consumers could choose from a large online database of recipes, put a cartridge with the ingredients into their 3D printer at home, and it would create the dish just for that person. The user could customize it to include extra nutrients or replace one ingredient with another
It is thought that 3D printing could not only revolutionise gourmet creations, allowing for an entirely new form of artistry within food, but also create nutrient-dense, tailored meals for soldiers in the field.
Moving from the kitchen to the battlefield, the U.S. military is beginning to research these uses, so that soldiers may be able to “print and eat” meals tailored to their needs by 2025, said Mary Scerra, food technologist for the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Centre.
Scerra admits there are still hurdles to overcome, most importantly making sure the food tastes good, but the timescale anticipated by the symposium suggests that within as little as 10 to 20 years consumers could see 3D printers revolutionise the food industry, impacting both what people eat and how they eat it.
The July 12th symposium at IFT15 titled Where Science Feeds Innovation was hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) in Chicago.