3D printing is the future, and the possibilities of 3D food printing are only just beginning to emerge. There are 3D printed restaurants slowly coming to the forefront, and inventive ingredients in the testing phase. Does 3D printing our food hold the answers to world hunger and reducing our carbon footprint? We spoke to Dr Naficy of the University of Sydney to find out.
“The underlying concept for food printing is the same as any other 3D printing.” says Dr Naficy, of University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies. Dr Naficy is a postdoctoral fellow in the Australian Research Council Training Centre for the Australian Food Processing Industry in the 21st Century.
“In 3D food printing, various food-based inks will be placed layer-by-layer to fabricate 3D constructs with complex geometries, elaborated textures, and customised nutrients. The food-based inks used in food printing are normally gel-like, but liquid-based inks can also be used. To enable food printing, it is important to optimise the properties of the ink as well as the printing parameters.”
The first 3D restaurant, Food Ink promises an entirely 3D printed dining experience, from the food to the furniture and cutlery. These restaurants seem to be the perfect practice run for large scale printing of the future. With a population of 9.1 billion people predicted for the year 2050, concerns are arising about the sustainability of our meat and dairy industry. An estimated 18% of greenhouse gases are emitted solely by the livestock industry, and vegan diets are often touted as the solution to a more sustainable future.
3D food printing also presents the opportunity for using creative ingredients. Eating insects is now being considered as a more sustainable alternative to meat and dairy. Ground down to a paste and thinned with fondant, insects like mealworm provide a meaty taste and essential nutrients. The unappetising sight of eating bugs is removed, and the flavour can be tweaked to suit different palates.
“There is a great potential to minimise waste and to customise food through the combination of 3D printing and food science.” says Dr Naficy.
“The process of making printed food is highly modular, meaning that 3D food printing can be readily undertaken in various parts of the globe. An important application will be to provide nutritious food for large populations in areas affected by natural or man-made crisis. Various food-based inks with adequate nutrients and favourable flavours can be deployed to hard-to-reach areas where the food assembly will take place onsite.”
The University of Sydney is making tracks in development and research in 3D printing, but it’s unlikely we’ll see students with printed lunches any time soon. “Although there are several 3D printers at the University of Sydney, there is only one state-of-the-art 3D printer on campus that is capable of 3D food printing.
“3D printing is a fast growing field with many unrealised potentials. University of Sydney continues to support the development of new materials and new technologies relevant to 3D printing through investment in new 3D printers and new expertise.”
– Eliza Brockwell
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Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs