What is 3D Food Printing?Ariann Hamilton
3D printing has become a buzzword over the last decade, prompting many businesses to experiment with the technology in their production processes. Private households can now own 3D printers and use them for personal projects, such as printing machine parts, toys, furniture, and more. Over the last few years, people started creating edible objects using 3D printing technology, and many restaurants now serve 3D-printed food.
How Does 3D Food Printing Work?
3D printing is an additive manufacturing technology that involves building three-dimensional objects one layer at a time. The most common 3D printing technique is fused deposition modeling (FDM). Traditional FDM machines push melted plastic through a heated nozzle and onto a base plate to create the object’s 2D footprint and gradually extrude it layer by layer. 3D-printed food works on the same principle.
Food 3D printers squeeze viscous materials, such as cheese, chocolate, sauce, and batter, through a food-grade syringe and nozzle to build the final object. Like all 3D printers, food printers require digital inputs, typically computer-generated 3D models, to produce different designs.
The Limitations of 3D Food Printing
Although 3D food printing may have an exciting future, not all foods are suitable for the machine just yet. Food requires pre-processing to prepare it for use in the 3D printer, which works best with viscous, paste-like ingredients that hold their shape after being pushed through a syringe.
Chefs will need to add thickening agents to fruits and vegetables with a high water content if they hope to use them for 3D printing. Softer foods like cream cheese or peanut butter may collapse after too many layers, and food must maintain a pleasant texture and taste after moving through the machine. Some 3D printers even cook the food as it’s printed using laser technology, which may affect its nutritional value.
Health and Safety Regulations for 3D Food Printing
3D-printed food must comply with the same health and safety standards as all other edible products. Organizations using 3D printing for interstate food distribution should be aware of the FDA’s current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) requirements. The cGMP requirements outline best practices to ensure safe and sanitary conditions for large-scale food production. State and local laws govern restaurants, food trucks, and other food retail establishments.
3D-printed food is safe to eat so long as all its ingredients and additives are FDA-approved and the printer uses food-grade materials for the nozzle, syringe, and base plate.
How 3D Food Printing is Transforming the Hospitality Industry
While the 3D printing process is relatively straightforward, it allows chefs and manufacturers to create intricate geometries they cannot produce by hand. It also allows food scientists to customize a food’s nutritional content and fortify products with additional fiber, protein, and other ingredients. The hospitality industry could use 3D printing to mass produce detailed edible objects faster, creating a scalable novel food experience that attracts curious consumers.
Here are some of the innovative ways that chefs have brought 3D printing into the kitchen:
- 3D printed pasta
- Plant-based “steaks”
- 3D-printed chocolate art
- Fruit flavor drops for cocktails
- Protein-fortified snack bars
- Pancake and waffle printers with built-in cooking
- 3D-printed seaweed snacks
- Intricate sugar art and dessert casings
3D food printing may revolutionize the food and beverage industry – allowing creators to offer unique taste experiences and helping restaurants produce detailed designs faster. While there are no specific regulations for 3D-printed food yet, using ingredients that the FDA already recognizes as safe ensures the food is fit for consumption.