The culinary quest to make 3D-printed food a reality

Imagine a world where you find a tasty looking recipe, gather the ingredients and simply press print. Engineer Hod Lipson is on a culinary quest to make 3D-printed food a reality.


Imagine a world where you find a tasty looking recipe, gather the ingredients and simply press print.

Engineer Hod Lipson is on a culinary quest to make 3d printed food a reality.

Here's the story hen Columbia University Engineering Professor Hod Lipson envisions the kitchen of the future, he sees 3D printed food cooked by a laser beam.

And based on research being conducted in his lab.

That reality may not be far off.

People always wonder what will 3D printing ever make it to people's homes?

Will people want to use a 3-D printer at home to make things?

And actually if you think about those people most people don't make anything at home except food.

Lipson points out that cooking unlike many areas of everyday life hasn't changed much with the advent of computer software.

But he thinks it will.

So you know we started with this work about a decade ago and the beginning was a sort of a frivolous activity we would really focus on printing with engineering materials that we would test the printers with chocolate, with peanut butter with cookie dough and things like that.

But we soon realized that actually printing in food is more than just a frivolous activity is actually very interesting it has a lot of potential both for making novel kinds of foods but also for making more healthy foods because you can start controlling the food content using data.

Data about a person's body and health.

This information could be used to find and print the ideal meal for his or her needs.

What will happen is all these biometric devices that you wear your i-watch, your personal genome that's online that's been sequenced all that information all that data that will feed through various AI systems that will be able to recommend what you need to eat that morning.

In other words the information about a person's DNA, nutritional intake or daily habits would provide a blueprint of what should be in his or her food.

The user could then for example look up a meal that meets those needs.

Cartridges filled with various ingredients would be combined automatically following the recipes instructions.

Lipson says the implications of this could be huge.

Imagine running a race having eaten a scientifically selected breakfast to maximize energy or being able to precisely implement a doctor's dietary recommendations.

Beyond that people with limited access to food could use what's available to them in different ways.

Food waste might decrease by people only making what is needed and the ability to create a favorite chefs recipe could be right at a user's fingertips.

Cooks could even get creative with presentation.

For example this walnut in sesame paste is printed in the shape of a pyramid but in his research Lipson quickly discovered a barrier to entry he didn't anticipate.

People like to eat food they can identify.

In the first couple of years we've started exploring this idea of printing with more food science material.

This sort of unpronounceable ingredients you see in some in some foods that you buy.

But we quickly abandoned that because we saw that with a machine like this we can create incredibly interesting foods that are food safe or even healthy.

But nobody will want to try that.

There were sort of crazy you know purple cubes that tasted like broccoli with a milk texture.

So we scaled that project back and we went and continued to work with basic ingredients like oil and water and flour and butter and chocolate and things that people recognize.

Another challenge the printer relies on food design software that doesn't fully exist yet.

Most of the design software that's out there is for editing images for editing engineering drawings but not for editing food.

So we have to basically develop this whole ecosystem of software tools that can do that.

Primarily Lipson and his research team are focusing on perfecting the printer itself.

While there are a few 3D food printers on the market now they're limited in what they can do.

Lipson wants the printer he's developing to be able to switch automatically between a number of ingredient cartridges.

So far it can only handle up to eight.

The final product needs to be consumer friendly too.

This is one of several printers that we have and we've build multiple printers over the years.

One of the things that we've noticed is that when we take this sort of a lab contraption into to a chef they will look at this and they say you know this is great but no way will this ever make it to market.

We're never going to have a thing like this on a kitchen counter.

When we think about how a food printer might actually look like when it is on your counter a few years from now it will look more like an espresso machine.

It will be stylize all these all these devices will be hidden.

Lipson has a prototype of what that could look like but there's still a long way to go.

Meanwhile he and his team are working to expand the machines functionality so it can cook food as well as print it.

This would allow them to for example not just print in cookie dough but also bake the cookies.

We are not only working with new kinds of degrees but new kinds of cooking processes so not just conventional heat but also infrared light bulbs, lasers and so on and these sort of combination of the ability to integrate lots of ingredients and cook them in a software determined way really allows us to explore a new a new food space.

Frankly I'm really looking forward to this sort of kind of culinary innovation that we'll see when this thing becomes ubiquitous.