Get Ready for 3D Printed Food
It took a long time before people stopped warily circling the sandwich vending machine at the hospital or the office. Plenty of us resisted cell phones without buttons on them before we finally gave in and bought one. And I might never get used to the voice in my car telling me to check my oil levels.
Yet now, we’re told that 3D printers are producing delicate chocolates for hotel room pillows, and even four-course meals in five-star restaurants!
3D Printing in Nutshell
Here’s an over-simplified explanation of what 3D printing is.
- Tell the computer what item you want to make.
- Place into the 3D printer the material with which to make it.
- The machine constructs the item one layer at a time until it’s done.
The Use of 3D Printing Machines Today
Europeans have jumped on the 3D bandwagon faster than most, although it’s true that NASA commissioned a research company in 2013 to make a 3D printing machine for its space program.
The research company successfully printed a pizza for the astronauts, and although NASA thought it was a good idea, the government soon pulled the plug. Maybe they should have printed a small rocket, instead.
Today, the Melisse restaurant in San Diego uses 3D printing by ChefJet Pro to produce stunning food with French overtones. In Spain, two classy restaurants use the Foodini and byPro to create seafood and other dishes right in front of their customers.
Diners can see the beauty the chefs bring to their food and the imagination going into the 3D printers.
The Drawbacks to 3D Printing
Only a few 3D food printers are in use now. They print things like gummy candies, cookies, chocolates, and incredibly patterned waffles and pancakes.
They print using a paste made up of the ingredients required for the finished product, but ingredients are still understandably limited. Mind you, some can even fry the food before it’s completed.
However, the machines are still pretty slow, and they can be pricey ($10,000 is not unusual). Don’t expect to see one in your local burger joint anytime soon. After all, they’re still grappling with delivery and self-ordering kiosks.
Where do we Stand on 3D Printing in Fast Food?
Right now, nowhere. McDonald’s wanted to play with the idea a few years ago, but the ROI just wasn’t there. Research labs are one of a few places that can afford to print 3D pizzas, which is among the few things being printed at the moment besides chocolates and other sweets.
Some high-end restaurants are experimenting with 3D printers and producing seafood purees and beautiful flower arrangements on a plate. Labs are only now toying with “meat” that contains no GMO or growth hormones.
It’ll probably be years before the fast food industry is ready to use “meat” grown in a lab, no matter how much healthier it is for the human body.
A study done in Australia asked a control group to try 3D printed food. The participants didn’t bat an eye until they were told what went into the paste that produced the food.
It seems that insects and algae aren’t high on people’s culinary bucket lists, not laboratory-grown meat products, at least not yet.
So while Michelin-starred chefs and pop-up restaurants in Europe might get away with elaborate chocolate creations for their sophisticated diners, 3D printing still has a long way to go before enters mainstream eating habits of western society.