CTRL+ALT+P…here comes your dinner!

by | Apr 19, 2017 | Nutrition

The Dirt:

Will well-balanced, homemade meals be printed? Today, culinary experts are exploring how this is possible. Can printers help create food that is fresh and tasty?  Will our kitchens soon be equipped with printers? Where is this new technology headed…

At D2D, we are constantly intrigued by the important role technology plays when bringing fresh food to your dinner table. We have discussed hydroponic farming in “Meet the ‘Ponics”— local, fresh greens are being grown in urban environments. We explored meat that is now being created in a lab without a live animal (in “A New Burger”). And now, we are shining a light on the future of 3D food.
3D food printing – targeting specific nutritional needs – is not so far in the future.  Source
Imagine this: You are enjoying your morning cup of coffee and lightly stirring it with a straw— not a plastic straw, but a 3D straw made from one your favorite sugar sweeteners! This edible straw dissolves perfectly into your warm mug as you enjoy your caffeine fix.
And the possibilities don’t end there… maybe you attend a wedding where a detailed 3D replica of the happy couple is featured on each slice of cake.

Or perhaps you want to try insect protein but are a bit reluctant. Well, with 3D printing technology, you can pour the insect powder into the printer with some chocolate and create a yummy chocolate grasshopper snack.

3d printing allows for creativity in the catering business.  Source
It is probably hard to imagine that a printer could be a staple in your kitchen, much like a blender or a microwave. But as the technology advancements continue, this is quickly becoming a reality. Yes, food can be fresh, homemade…and printed!

What is 3D printing?

3D printers have the capability of printing almost any material into three dimensions. A virtual design is created with 3D modeling software, which then instructs the printer to make anything from airplane engine parts, racing car parts, guitars, and even 3D bikinis! 3D printing is cheaper, uses less individual parts, and the design changes are much more efficient. And now, 3D printing has entered the realm of food.
Customization of a product is the most significant benefit of 3D food. Ingredients can be printed to a specific shape, which makes the process of creating a food product cost effective and allows for more culinary creativity.
Traditionally, food shapes are made on the assembly line with a specific mold. Therefore, changing the shape means changing the entire assembly line. Printing out a variety of food shapes through a software program makes creating the final product easier and (eventually) faster. At the moment, the main limitation of 3D printing is speed. It takes anywhere from 2-4 minutes to print out a shape. And while this might not seem like a lot of time, if you are trying to mass produce a product it is both time consuming and inefficient to wait 4 minutes for 1 item.

Novelty shapes and various textures

Peter Callahan, a Food Conceptualist, is limited only by his imagination when it comes to creating intriguing (and delicious) dishes for his clients. He is the creative mind behind a significant amount of innovation in the catering world, including the miniature hamburger slider and other “mini” comfort food favorites!

“3d printing in food is opening up a whole new world of creativity where it will become the medium where I can bring his new food concepts ideas to life that prior were not able to be done or certainly not able to be done so quickly.”

Peter Callahan

“It is all about design and texture…Everyone is looking for something different to make food fun and exciting to eat.” -Peter Callahan

Callahan is building a technology center in NYC to bring creative ideas to market as well as redefine the boundaries of what can be done with food— and 3d printers are a large part of this.

His relationship with 3D printing began with a simple idea: completely edible chicken wings. Peter started to think about how to make a truly bite sized chicken wing…and that brought him to 3D printing. “What if we incorporated 3d printed ‘chicken bones’ made of hot sauce or blue cheese?” This would add novelty as well as instant flavor to the chicken wings. Can you imagine? Being able to pop a whole chicken wing in your mouth with the blue cheese built right in! It is this kind of creativity that will drive the future of 3D printed food.

3D printers can print out designs and shapes that are unattainable with traditional molds.

Large scale food producers are also creating unique shapes to distinguish themselves from the competition. For instance, Barilla pasta has collaborated with TNO, the Dutch Research Center, to print 3D pasta. By replacing the “ink cartridge” with dough, unique shapes can be printed out in under two minutes. And that isn’t the only advantage to printing rosette or star shaped pasta.
Barilla is investing in the future of 3d printed customized food. On the left is the 3d printer; above is the newly shaped pasta. Source
Traditionally, the ingredients used in pasta are not hard to copy— but if a producer can patent the process by which a food item is made, they can control the market for 20 years and build a very strong brand without fear of competition. Patenting a specific pasta printing process could be very beneficial for large companies. Currently, gluten free, whole grain, and vegetable printed pasta are currently in the works.
Have you ever thought about the potato chip as being part of the future? Pepsi did, and with the help of a 3D printer, Pepsi now has a patent on using specific blades to design deep ridges in their Ruffles potato chips. This 3D printed chip will give a new look and a new eating experience.
Hershey, in partnership with 3D Systems, makes 3D chocolate in almost any shape. In France, the start-up Les 3Dandies lets customers order their own design and their 3D chocolate order is printed with fair-trade and organic chocolate.
Imagine you could you print out broccoli pasta in the shape of dinosaurs so your children will happily eat their vegetables It will hopefully soon be a reality. Natural Machines, located in Barcelona has developed a printer called Foodini— bringing 3D printed food to our kitchen counter. They recognize that we want fresh, homemade food brought to the table quickly and conveniently. Because it is connected to the internet, recipes can be accessed from laptops, mobile phones and even fitness trackers. Co-founder, Lynette Kucsma, is excited that all you have to do is put your own ingredients into plastic containers and the printer takes care of the rest. They are even working on a version where the food will come out cooked, hot, or cold.

Pepsi Co has patents on not only the design of the Deep Ridge potato chip, but also the cutter and the ‘mouth’ experience. Source

Video: Hershey can print chocolate in almost any shape.

The Foodini simplifies the process of creating homemade food by taking the time-consuming part of food preparation out of the equation. Video and image source: Natural Machines
However, there are still challenges to having a printer in your kitchen. As any cook knows, the final product depends on precise mixtures, measurements, temperature, and ingredients. And even then, things don’t always turn out perfectly. Would 3D printing take the variability out of the process – or could it make it worse? Right now, sugar and chocolate seem to be the safest edible 3D items. Printing hamburgers, on the other hand are a bit more complicated. Nevertheless, the biggest obstacle facing the creation of 3D printed food in large quantities is the time it takes to print a product out.

3d Printers and Customized Personal Nutrition

Lipson sees 3d printing as the ‘output device’ for data-driven nutrition and personal health, akin to precision medicine, with huge potential for a profound impact.”

Jeffrey Lipton, a professor with M.I.T, and formerly of Cornell Creative Machines Lab, and Hod Lipson, an engineering professor at Columbia University, are pioneers in 3D printed food. Lipson is currently working on food that cooks while it prints. Early on, Lipton and Lipson went from 3D printing any material to foods such as Nutella and Easy Cheese. They then took it to the next level and asked themselves, “What would happen if you bring software and robotics into something as basic as cooking? The opportunities are there for the ability to control nutrition and creating new and novel food items you can’t create any other way.”
These innovative food scientists have experimented with customizing personal nutrition into a cookie or breakfast item. Creating their own software program, they put in their body metrics (height, weight, etc.), what they ate for the day, and what exercise they did. A cookie printed out with just the right amount of calories for each of them based on their body needs.

“3D food printing offers revolutionary new options for convenience and customization, from controlling nutrition to managing dietary needs to saving energy and transport costs to creating new and novel food items.” -Jeffrey Lipton

Looking forward, the customization of specific  nutritional needs could be done through 3D printed food. This sounds farfetched, but think of the personalized data we collect with Fitbit, Whoop, and 23 and Me. Let’s say you also have access to your blood panel profile from your Doctor. Combine that with your biometrics such as body composition, caloric intake, and daily workout routine – input into a program, which then feeds the 3D printer with your exact caloric and nutritional needs. Voila – out prints a perfectly formed tasty cookie with just the right vitamin profile for you.

3d Printers Can Meet the Nutritional Needs of the Elderly or those with Dysphagia

Let’s face it, hospital or institutional food is not known for its culinary delights. In nursing homes, malnutrition is often a problem because the residents have a hard time eating. Blending together nutrients and good taste into a meal that looks like the ‘real thing’ enables residents to stay healthy. Smoothfoods has created a way to blend together fresh foods with specific texturisers to create visually appealing foods that taste great and are easy to swallow. The 3D printer holds liquefied vegetables, meat, and carbohydrates. They all have a gelation agent so the food, such as a steak or carrots, sticks together on the plate.
Biozoon’s 3d printed chicken and vegetables in nutritious and palatable form for those who have trouble chewing and swallowing.

3D printing for the Military

3D printing has powerful implications for the military as well. One of the challenges of feeding our troops is making sure that each soldier gets the correct nutrition and right rations for the job they are doing. For instance, the caloric and nutritional requirements are very different if you are sitting behind a computer operating a drone or running through the desert fully suited up with backpacks and rifles. Custom printed nutritional food can go a long way to keep every soldier healthy and strong.

3D food in Space

NASA is also looking at 3D printing in space. Astronauts get tired of the same old ‘space friendly’ meals— here they have an opportunity to be creative and eat novel and different foods.  When you are in space for a year, there is only so much that can be packed in the pantry. With a 3D printer, they can print out fresh and nutritious meals.

A 3D Printer in Every Home?

This technology is still in its early stages. Today’s appeal is really with unique design and textures. Whether 3D printed food becomes a household conversation depends on a variety of factors such as accessibility, cost, convenience, customization, taste, and looks. Of course, at D2D, we cannot predict the future, but we can say this… if there is a machine where we could put in fresh ingredients, a vitamin compound, and print out a yummy dinner – we are in!

The Bottom Line:

Revolutionary technology in the kitchen has not progressed much since the microwave. 3D food may be the next major technological development. In the meantime, look for 3D food in restaurants, in space, in the military, and visiting retirement homes.


Dizon, Jan. “Hershey’s 3D Printer Lets You Print Any Object You Desire With Chocolate.” Tech Times. Tech Times, 18 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

 Evarts, Holly. “Dinner in 3D.” The Fu Foundation School of Engineering & Applied Science – Columbia University. Columbia University, 28 July 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

“HERSHEY AND PEPSICO USED 3D PRINTING TO MAKE FOOD.” Indovance.com. Indovance, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

 Hollander, Sophia. “What Are You Printing for Dinner?” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 09 June 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. 

“Introducing: Foodini.” Natural Machines. New Possibilities Group LLC, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Lipton, Jeffery, Dave Arnold, Franz Nigl, Nastassia Lopez, Dan Cohen, Nils Noren, and Hod Lipson. “MUTLI-MATERIAL FOOD PRINTING WITH COMPLEX INTERNAL STRUCTURE SUITABLE FOR CONVENTIONAL POST-PROCESSING.” Cornell University. Cornell Computational Synthesis Lab, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, n.d. Web.

McCue, Matt. “Will 3D printed food become as common as the microwave?” Fortune.com. Fortune, 26 Feb. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Pearse, Damien. “Transforming mealtimes with 3D-printed food.” Horizon: the EU Research & Innovation magazine. European Commission, 07 Apr. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. 

Sun, J., Zhou, W., Huang, D. et al. Food Bioprocess Technol (2015) 8: 1605. doi:10.1007/s11947-015-1528-6