3D printers are a relatively new type of printer technology that allow users to print a solid, 3D version of anything that they can model on a computer. Like traditional printers which layer ink on a piece of paper, 3D printers layer materials like plastic and metal on top of each other to create the finished product. There are applications for these 3D printers in many fields – but until recently, food wasn’t one of them. This year at CES, an internationally renowned consumer electronics show, 3D food printers got their moment in the spotlight. There are several different models and they can do things like print sugar and chocolates in any shape and design that you can imagine – even things that would be very difficult, or even impossible, to make with traditional methods.
3D Systems showcased their Chef Jet and Chef Jet Pro, machines that can create incredible sugar masterpieces and are aimed professional baker, the restaurant chef, and the chocolatier. They’re expensive machines, and are expected to be priced around $5000 and $1000, respectively, when they come on the market later this year, but they allow the user to make things that no one else can. A British company, Choc Edge, has 3D printers designed to make impressive 2D and 3D chocolate decorations and designs. An Australian company is developing the ChocoByte printer that will print custom 3D chocolates and solid chocolate bars.
In addition to the printers that are currently making products for people who have a sweet tooth, other 3D food printers are in development and may also soon be available. The Foodini system, is produced by a Barcelona-based company called Natural Machines, and it is able to make pasta and pizza, as well as chocolate items, using liquefied ingredients. This type of technology is currently being marketed towards the food industry, but groups like NASA are also interested in using it in space, to make foods like pizza for astronauts who are unable to cook using the usual methods that we have back here on Earth.
The technology is new and it won’t be replacing the artisan pizzas and other foods that you can buy at your favorite restaurants and bakeries, but there is a lot of interesting potential in this field and I expect that we will be seeing a lot more of it in the not-so-distant future.