Trend Watch: 3D Food Printers, Coming Soon to a Kitchen Near You

Better move that Vitamix out of the way and make room for your next can't-live-without-it appliance

What if, instead of firing up the stove, you could just hit “print” and dinner would be ready? Even the Jetsons didn’t dream up 3D printers, but those uber-futuristic appliances might find their way into your kitchen sooner than you think. The technology to 3D-print just about everything from toys to prosthetic limbs has advanced at warp speed in the last few years, so the tools to print candy, chocolate, pasta and more are already here. Using everything from food in powdered or liquid form to lab-grown cultured cells, 3D food printers create edible products that mimic food cooked in a kitchen. And depending on which designs users choose to upload, some printers can even produce foods in unusual shapes that would be impossible to create otherwise. Take a look at some of the 3D foods you’re likely to see—and eat—first.

Candy

Candy

3dsystems.com

These rainbow-colored sugar cubes, spheres, and more were printed with the ChefJet Pro, a full-color sugar and chocolate 3D printer from 3D Systems. The ChefJet printers use water to soften the sugar for printing, and alcohol to harden it into a 3D design, and can create intricate candies and sweets in flavors like sour apple, watermelon and chocolate. The price for the ChefJet Pro? A whopping $10,000. There’s also a slightly less astronomical option in the works: Called simply ChefJet, the countertop-size one-color 3D food printer will be available in late 2014 for around $5,000. While the price points make these printers more suitable for professional kitchens, the company hopes to eventually develop ChefJets that are affordable for home kitchens too.

Chocolate

Chocolate

chocedge.com/choc-creator-v1.php

This elaborately patterned chocolate may look like it was created by a master chocolatier, but it was actually printed by the Choc Creator, a 3-D desktop printer from U.K.-based company Choc Edge. Various liquid chocolates are poured into the printer head to create intricate chocolate candies or chocolate decorations for candies, cakes, cookies, and other dishes. It’s available now, and for about $4,500, it can be yours.

If that’s a bit pricey, try the custom creation tool online at Piq Chocolates. It allows you to create a personalized chocolate bar embossed with your image, company logo, or just about anything you can think of. This Austin-based startup creates custom-shaped chocolates by combining high-quality chocolate with 3D printing and molds. Access to the online creation tool is currently limited so that the company can make sure quality levels remain high, but you can sign up to get on the waiting list for a chance to try it.

Pasta

Pasta

NaturalMachines.com

The noodles in this photo don’t look much different from the ones you buy at the supermarket, but that bowl of pasta was printed on the Foodini, from Barcelona-based Natural Machines. Foodini starts with the component parts of a dish—for instance the ravioli dough, the filling, and the sauce--and layers them as needed, then prints them out in ready-to-cook form. The printer can also turn out cookies, crackers, hamburger patties, quiche and more. Designed to streamline some of cooking’s more rote activities – forming dough into a dozen breadsticks, for example, or filling and shaping individual ravioli –the Foodini is slated to be available in late 2014 for about $1,300.

In other pasta news: Italian pasta company Barilla is reportedly collaborating with Dutch research organization TNO on a fast 3D food printer that could print out pasta in restaurants. The concept is still in the early stages, but the idea is that diners could bring in a USB stick with their 3D designs, and chefs could use that to print out pasta in whatever shape the customers invent.

Pizza

Pizza

SMRC

Last year, NASA gave a $125,000 grant to Systems and Materials Research Corporation of Austin, Texas, to study the feasibility of using 3D printing to make food in space. The prototype uses shelf-stable powdered foods and oils, with the goal of creating nutritious meals while minimizing garbage on space vehicles. To make pizza, the machine prints a layer of dough onto a heated plate that bakes it, and then lays down a tomato base that’s been stored in powdered form and mixed with water and oil. Last comes a printed “protein layer,” which could include ingredients made from meat, plants or dairy. There’s also a potentially greater future in store for a 3D food printer like this—beyond feeding astronauts. These printers could someday help curb hunger worldwide by creating customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time from shelf-stable cartridges of powder and oils, available at low prices. Check out this video:

Meat

Meat

Getty Images

Modern Meadow, a Missouri-based company, is working on combining 3D printing and tissue engineering to develop cultured meat and leather products made with a significantly lower environmental impact than what the livestock industry turns out. The technology could also potentially solve problems that traditional farming is ill-suited to tackle, such as providing food for long-term space missions or remote and inhospitable regions. Although the company did a demo and a tasting at the TEDMED conference in 2011, 3D printed meat still has to overcome technical and regulatory hurdles—so it’s a ways off from hitting your local supermarket shelf.

Ellen Sturm Niz is an editor and writer living, parenting, and working in New York City. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Google+.

 

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