Used primarily to make customized machine parts, medical implants, knickknacks and other plastic objects, 3D printers are now branching out into the kitchen, promising new flavors, shapes and textures that could someday delight the most discriminating foodies. A feature article in Chemical & Engineering News, an independent news outlet of the American Chemical Society, describes how 3D printers are serving up custom edibles. The story was produced in collaboration with ACS Central Science.
3D printers build programmed shapes layer-by-layer, depositing materials (usually plastics) through a nozzle onto a surface, writes freelance contributor Alla Katsnelson. In recent years, researchers have been adapting the software and hardware to print foods instead of plastics. They face challenges because foods’ properties aren’t always linear, and small fluctuations in temperature can completely change how edible ingredients flow. Pastes, such as chocolate frosting or peanut butter, are the easiest to work with, but researchers are also exploring other food materials, including powders, solids, liquids and gels.
Customizable cuisine and personalized nutrition are now within reach. For example, researchers at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Combat Feeding Directorate, which develops military rations for the U.S. Armed Forces, are working on 3-D printed nutrient bars tailored to the individual needs of soldiers under different conditions. Meanwhile, researchers at Columbia University have made a slice of cheesecake with an elaborate internal structure that releases flavors in waves. And a company called Redefine Meat is trying to reproduce the structure, texture and flavor of beef steaks by 3D printing plant-based fibers. Within the next 15 years, 3D printers could have a prominent place in the kitchen next to the toaster or microwave, experts say.
The article is available here.
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