3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is quickly becoming the hot new technology in the food industry. It enables a high degree of customization in design, decoration and nutritional ingredients while saving time and reducing waste.

The process is relatively simple: Chefs, caterers, food manufacturers and consumers are using computers to develop a custom three-dimensional food design and then build it, layer upon layer, using an integrated 3-D printer to extrude the selected food products.

The global market for 3-D food printing technology is booming and is expected to reach $400 million by 2024.[1] Food manufacturers, restaurant owners, chefs and consumers all are drawn to the technology’s ability to create highly complex, customized food products quickly, easily and inexpensively.

Some of the innovative 3-D food-printing applications gaining attention include:[2]

  • Liquid chocolate and sugars are being used to create intricate shapes and designs for custom cakes, candies, ice creams, desserts and pastries. Caterers can create complex personalized wedding cakes and entrée foods in a range of shapes, textures and decorations for special occasions.
  • 3-D printers enable personalized food products to be created with precise amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients required for a particular life stage, life style or medical condition. This advantage is desirable for health care applications in nursing homes and hospitals, where it is often difficult to provide patients with appealing and nutritious meal options.
  • Human rights organizations see 3-D printing as a potential way to reduce world hunger. The technology makes it easy to add nutritional additives and produce fresh food products consistently and efficiently.
  • 3-D printing enables the incorporation of unusual nutritious materials into food products. Insects, algae, beet leaves and other non-traditional food materials are plentiful and rich in protein, but most cultures shy away from eating them. These elements could be ground into a fine powder and incorporated into appealing food products, increasing their nutritional value cheaply and easily.
  • NASA has contracted with a Texas manufacturer to create a 3-D printer that could combine powdered material with a liquid to create a wide range of food products. NASA views 3-D food printing as a way to increase the nutritional value, safety and stability of food provided to astronauts, especially as the agency looks ahead to deep space missions.

[1] “3D Food Printing Market: Global Demand Analysis & Opportunity Outlook 2024,” researchnester.com, May 18, 2017. Available at: http://www.researchnester.com/reports/3d-food-printing-market-global-demand-analysis-opportunity-outlook-2024/272

[2] “3D Printers for Food: Technology and Applications,” by Linda Crampton, turbofuture.com blog, March 12, 2017. Available at: https://turbofuture.com/consumer-electronics/3D-Printers-For-Food-Technology-and-Applications

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