Future Tech

Will 3D Printed Food Remove Humans From The Kitchen?

Dann Albright 26-11-2014

You probably know that 3d printers What Is 3D Printing And How Exactly Does It Work? Imagine if you could print out three-dimensional objects straight from a printer in your home. When I was a kid in primary school, I thought it would be awesome if I could print pizzas out... Read More have been used to create everything from mechanical gears and electrical parts to prosthetic limbs and living human tissue How 3D Printing Humans Might Be Possible Some Day How does bioprinting work? What can be printed? And will be ever be able to print a full human being? Read More . But did you know that they’re also being used to print food? It sounds a bit like the Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle from the Jetsons cartoons—but it’s happening in real life.


Why 3D Print Food?

3D printing is quickly becoming one of the most important technologies in recent memory, and it should be no surprise that it’s being incorporated into just about every industry, even into the home 4 Affordable 3D Printers You Can Buy For Your Home Read More —but most people would be surprised to find out that food can be 3D printed. And the first question you might ask would be “Why would we need that?”


One of the ideas developed by researchers is making interesting foods for people who are on a soft food diet, like residents of retirement communities or hospital patients. Instead of putting a regular meal in the blender, a softer version of a favorite food could be printed.

The modifying of the texture and consistency of a food could also help people who don’t like one aspect of a food enjoy the others: for example, if you don’t like the texture of tomatoes, you could print a different food from a tomto base that includes all of the nutrients that you’d get from a raw tomato.

There are a few other practical considerations, too: making intricate chocolate designs can be tough with traditional methods, but some very intricate and impressive chocolate treats have been made with 3D printers. When it comes to other foods, Barilla is hosting a competition for 3D printed pasta designs. If you’re a 3D printing enthusiast, you can enter the competition at Thingarage.


Allergens could even be removed from favorite dishes. NASA’s looking at the process for long-term space missions. The US army is even considering using 3D food printing on the front lines.

Many people don’t like to cook Intimidated by Cooking? 6 Simple Tips to Conquer Your Kitchen Fears Eating out is awesome, but it doesn’t compare to the experience of cooking a meal from scratch. But it’s far too common for people to hold a phobia of the kitchen. Read More , and 3D printing offers a way to get foods that don’t have the preservatives contained in most packaged options, but don’t require the amount of preparation that most fresh foods do. Being able to print a quiche, some pasta sauce, or a veggie burger with fresh ingredients will appeal to a lot of people. And, of course, there’s the fun factor: it’s just cool to print food.

How Does It Work?

It’s clear that there are plenty of reasons that you might want to 3D print food. What’s less clear is how the process works. Let’s take a look at it, step by step.



As in 3D printing anything else, you start with the raw materials. Except, instead of the printer being loaded with cartridges that contain plastics, the cartridges in 3D food printers are filled with edible materials; the same kinds of materials that are currently used in food analogues that we eat all the time, like veggie burgers and soy cheese.

Different printers use different materials; the Foodini machine uses capsules that contain freshly prepared ingredients (basically standard food products blended into a paste). The Choc Edge uses melted chocolate. Other printers use a combination of powders and oils.

After that, it’s a familiar 3D printing process: the machine dispenses ingredients from nozzles on the capsules, layer by layer, until a food product has been created. It can be a single-ingredient food, like chocolate, or it could be complex, like a pizza. In the case of more complex foods, the ingredients are layered in the correct order and amount.



Finally, at least in many cases, the food is cooked in an oven. 3D printers can’t cook food yet, but that’s a feature that manufacturers would like to offer in the future. The whole process isn’t as fast as you’ve seen in the Jetsons and science fiction 3 Examples of Amazing Science Fiction Tech That Became Reality Technology is difficult to predict, because it often develops in response to new needs or changing situations that are difficult to imagine. There are, however, a few sci-fi books that were particularly prophetic. Read More movies—it’s actually slower than other 3D printing methods—but it has the potential to be significantly faster than preparing fresh food by hand. Especially if the printer could be set on a timer so that dinner would be printed when you got home from work, ready to put in the oven.

Will It Catch On?

For now, the days of a Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle in every home seem far off. As of now, there aren’t many consumer models available; they’re mostly limited to professional ones. But companies are pushing the price of these machines down in the hopes that they’ll get much more popular. However, manufacturers would need to make a great marketing push to get the populace over the “weirdness” of printing their own food.


That being said, we’re now using a number of kitchen devices Not Just Recipes: 4 iPad Apps That Teach You To Cook [iOS] Owning an iPad has changed the way I cook and bake in my kitchen. I can now load everything on my iPad, place it in the closest spot where it still wouldn't get dirty, and... Read More that people never thought would be widespread; the advent of the countertop microwave oven in the 60s was met with some suspicion and confusion. And now, just about everybody uses one. 3D food printers will be connected to the Internet of Things What Is the Internet of Things? What is the Internet of Things? Here's everything you need to know about it, why it's so exciting, and some of the risks. Read More , another recent technology that people are slowly starting to adopt, as can be seen in the proliferation of connected appliances.


At the moment, it looks like 3D printed food will be most enthusiastically received by people who need or would be helped by alternate methods of food preparation—soldiers, astronauts, or people with food allergies and dietary restrictions. And while today’s 3D printed food is often clearly distinguishable from more traditional alternatives, it’s likely that the technology will advance quickly 5 Amazing 3D Printing Applications You Have to See to Believe What would you do with a 3D printer? If the people developing these applications have anything to say about it, you might be surprised. Read More —we may find that 3D printing allows us to get a finer mix of ingredients that actually improves the flavor beyond what we’ve been able to do in the past.

It’s difficult to say what the future might bring, but it’s clear that 3D food printing is here to stay.

What do you think of 3D printing food? Would you buy a 3D food printer? Does it make you nervous? Do you think it’s totally unnecessary? Share your thoughts below!

Image credits: courtesy of Natural Machines.

Explore more about: 3D Printing, Food.

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  1. A41202813GMAIL
    January 3, 2015 at 8:31 am

    I Am A Lousy Cook, So Bring Them On.

    The Price War Against Traditional Food Will Be A Big Deterrent, I Guess.

    For The People That Love Cooking, I Like To Drive Also, But That Would Not Prevent Me From Enjoying A Driverless Car From Time To Time - Assuming It Comes With A Steering Wheel And All The Usual Gizmos For Any Unpredictable Situation, Though.

    And I Promise I Will Not Let The Car Drive Itself Unattended - So No Sleep, Whatsoever.


    • Dann Albright
      January 4, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      That's an interesting comparison you've made here, between the 3D food printer and the auto-driving car. I would be the same—I like driving, but I'd still like to be able to read a book instead of drive every once in a while. :-)

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Friendlypest
    November 28, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    I would not even consider it as an option. For one, I love to cook, two, you never know what chemicals are going to be in the glob that the printer is going to print out and call it food. No thanks, also keep in mind it will be connected to the internet. Does not sound good to me at all.

    • Dann Albright
      November 29, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Yeah, this technology is very unlikely to appeal to people who like to cook, I'd say, unless they're at such a high level that they want to create things that can't be easily done without using a printer. Not sure what that would be, though . . . complicated shapes, maybe?

      Also, with the printer tech available right now, there's not too much of a risk of unknown chemicals, as you just put fresh food into a blender and then into the cartridges. That could be a concern in the future, but in my research, it seemed like manufacturers are sensitive to the public's current desire for fresh foods.

  3. Christian Cawley
    November 26, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Mmmm, appetising!

    I think one of the problems with 3D printed food is public perception. There is little to choose between the mass production of processed foods in factory and 3D printed food. Both have that icky "squirtiness" about them, even when producing things as simple as bread (see above!).

    Seems to me that the best application for this would be in orbit or beyond (if we *ever* get beyond...)

    • Dann Albright
      November 27, 2014 at 10:22 am

      I definitely agree that public perception is a big hurdle for 3D printed food. I imagine that people will have to try it before they're convinced that, for the most part, it's very similar to the food they're already eating. And I think most people will probably be fine with things like chocolate being printed, so maybe that could be a good gateway food. People probably won't go from chocolate to pastified salmon, but it could be a start!

      Also, yes, I think that sending a 3D food printer into orbit or beyond is a great use of the technology. The ISS has a 3D printer now, so this is very likely on their radar.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. dragonmouth
    November 26, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    "It sounds a bit like the Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle from the Jetsons cartoons"
    To me it sounds like the replicator from Star Trek.

    The one obvious question is how does printed food taste? Does it have an agreable or familiar taste or, as Seven of Nine, would say, it is nourishment, providing sustenance and little else?

    • Dann Albright
      November 27, 2014 at 11:35 am

      From what I said, it sounds like it tastes pretty good! I think it depends a lot on the ingredients that are used. If you use one of the systems that uses with fresh ingredients, I think the taste is pretty similar to foods prepared with those ingredients in more traditional ways. As for packaged ingredients, I'm not sure. If I ever get the chance to try one, though, I will, and I'll report back!

    • dragonmouth
      November 27, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      I hope the food taste better than it looks in the pictures. But then all soft food looks rather unappetizing. Good thing babies have not yet associated how food looks to how it tastes, otherwise parents would be in trouble. :-)

    • Dann Albright
      November 27, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      Oops. That's supposed to be "From what I read," not "From what I said."