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3D Printed Food: A Culinary Guide to 3D Printing Food

Picture ofFranklin Houser
by Franklin Houser
August 29, 2017

Creating food is the most delicious application of 3D printing. Read our guide to learn more about 3D printed food and food 3D printers.

The technologies of 3D printing are as varied as they are cool. But the one area you hear of less than other is 3D printing food. What even is 3D printing food? What purpose does it serve and how does it happen?

We answer all that and more in this, our guide to the delicious world of 3D printing food.


1

3D Printed Food Questions Answered What is 3D Printed Food?

pizza

3D printed food is a way of preparing a meal in an automated additive manner. For example, the 3D printed pizza above has a dough base that is extruded line-by-line by a food 3D printer. A tomato sauce is also applied using the same food 3D Printer. Cheese and oregano were added by hand.

Of course, 3D printing food doesn’t stop at pizza. Check out what’s on the menu with our guide to 3D printed food good enough to order out.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered What are the Pros of 3D Printing Food?

3d printed food

3D printed food could enable us to reinvent our culinary ways on many levels, from texture to shape and artistic vision.

The new technology also offers many possibilities to make the consumption of products like meat more sustainable and space travel more comfortable by introducing new ways of preparing a meal in space.

The possibilities are endless and are sure to continue to surpass our expectations in the future to come.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered What are the Cons of 3D Printing Food?

Stainless steel capsules required for the Foodini food 3D printer // Image: Natural Machines

In regular 3D printing, there are two key components: speed and reliability. With 3D printing food, you add two more.

  1. Reliability: You want to have every 3D print as precise as the last one. With 3D printing food, the needed tolerances can be achieved. But, the result usually is limited in the texture – unless you can 3D print fragile structures with sugar.
  2. Speed: 3D printing a whole meal in a restaurant takes a lot of time… and if there‘s one thing chefs don’t have, it’s time! All in all, 3D printing food still is way too slow for mass production.
  3. Cost: Specialized food 3D printers are expensive. If you want to save money, you can mount any 3D printing food nozzle mounted on your regular printer. But only the specialized food 3D printers will give you satisfactory results.
  4. Safety: When it comes to food, you don’t want to play with your health. So every aspect of a food 3D printer has to be clean and food-safe.

Check out our guide to the ins and outs of creating safe 3D printed food.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered What Foods Can Be 3D Printed?

3D printed food

As long as the ingredients can be puréed, it can be printed. The key consideration is that whatever is being printed needs to be forced through a syringe-like mechanism to be extruded onto a plate.

Known examples include gingerbread, spinach quiche and burgers. And the list goes on.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered How Do I 3D Print Food?

3D printing food works much like a regular fused filament fabrication 3D printer in the sense that a print head extrudes material onto a surface. The piece can be any shape the designer wants, as long as it does not extend past the spacial limitations of the printer and the laws of physics.

However, the raw material does not come in spools like traditional plastic does for 3D printing. It has to have a certain degree of viscosity and must, therefore, be inserted into a syringe-like container for later extrusion. In the video above you can see a food 3D printer in action.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered Is it Safe to Eat 3D Printed Food?

If it has been prepared with an appropriately food-safe and clean machine, yes. At its basest, 3D printed food is nothing more than typical edible ingredients processed in such a way that they can be extruded through a nozzle onto a surface.

As with any kitchen, you have to keep your space clean and maintain hygienic standards. And so, a clean printer is a must.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered How Does 3D Printed Food Compare to "Normal" Food?

food 3d printing

The main difference between 3D printed food and non-3D printed food is the texture. As we covered above, to 3D print food, it must be in an easily extrudable form (read: puréed).

Here’s an interesting example: Biozoon Food Innovations is a German company that has taken advantage of the new technology to create accessible meals for seniors who struggle to process solid foods.

The company uses fresh chicken, carrots and other ingredients to create a nutritionally balanced array of purées that make up its seneoPro product line. With the help of an edible adhesive it prints the tasty mush into the shape of the base ingredient. The result is an ordinary meal that can easily be consumed by those who would otherwise struggle with chewing solid foods.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered What Professional Food 3D Printers Are There?

Innovative 3D printing companies

As of Summer 2017, there are only a handful professional food 3D printers —  most are still limited releases or in prototyping still, but some are commercially available.

1. 3D Food Printer for Professionals: ChefJet Pro

3D Systems has been tiptoeing around the release of its ChefJet Pro food 3D printer ever since acquiring Sugar Labs back in 2013. Frequently doing media rounds, but never fully launching, the ChefJet Pro got a little closer to the big time with 3D System’s recent announcement of a collaboration with CSM Bakery. The former will handle producing the food 3D printer, while the latter will handle the sales and print materials side of the operation.

2. 3D Food Printer for Professionals: Cocojet

The CocoJet chocolate 3D printer caught the attention of mainstream media in 2015, but hasn’t surfaced since. There’s nary a hint of when or even if this food 3D printer will reach the market. So in the meantime all we can do is dream of the possibilities it presents. Tailored for a collaboration between Hershey’s Chocolate and 3D Systems the Cocojet demonstrated could 3D print chocolate. At this time of its showing, the price was stated as between $ 10,000 to $ 50,000.

3. 3D Food Printer for Professionals: FoodForm 3D

The result of Robots in Gastronomy’s — a collective of chefs, designers and kitchen gear distributors — collective efforts developing technologically driven gastronomic creations, the FoodForm 3D is a dual paste extrusion machine that was used to 3D print pasta for Barilla. Their webpage is mostly dead, with no updates since 2014, and infrequent social media news since. Unfortunately it would appear that this food 3D printer is not available to the public.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered What Consumer Desktop Food 3D Printers Are There?

As you can see from this list, dedicated consumer food 3D printers still are a rare breed.

1. 3D Food Printer for Consumers: Bocusini

Bocusini shares a lot with some of the more popular 3D printers of today — one big commonality being that it got its big break with a successful Kickstarter campaign. Munich-based company Print2Taste launched its Bocusini system on the platform back in 2015. And since then the company and system has evolved rapidly: currently on version 3.0 Pro of their paste extruding machine, the company also offers a large selection of 3D printable food materials. Bocusini differentiates itself from the (albeit small) crowd with a disposable cartridge system. No food material ever comes in contact with the printer parts so food safety standards remain high and easy. Bocusini also offers seminars in 3D food printing.

2. 3D Food Printer for Consumers: PancakeBot

Bit of a stretch to call  this one a food 3D printer, but stick with us — it’s an incredibly cool idea nonetheless.

The original PancakeBot was made out of LEGO but, once the inventor realized the potential, he brought the pancake 3D printer to the World Maker Faire in New York. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, this food printer is now publicly available. New features including print speed control and a simpler user interface were added recently with the PancakeBot 2.0.

Price of this food 3D printer: $299.

3. 3D Food Printer for Consumers: Foodini

Although it has been a known entity for quite some time, the Foodini from Natural Machines is not yet available. The early units are focused towards the profssional kitchen, but the company claims later models (capable of cooking the food, too) will be for the home kitchen also.

Price of this food 3D printer: According to the Foodini FAQs, $4,000 for early production run units.

4. 3D Food Printer for Consumers: ByFlow Focus

The Focus from ByFlow comes with interchangeable 3D printing heads for your own-made (or ByFlow produced) pastes. This food 3D printer can be folded into a compact suitcase for total portability. The suitcase weighs 7 kg, is set up in 20 seconds and print-ready within 2 minutes. As with every multi-purpose 3D printer, it has to be properly calibrated.

Price of this food 3D printer: Roughly $3,700.

4. 3D Food Printer for Consumers: Choc Creator V2.0 Plus

As you might have guessed from the name, the Choc Creator focuses on 3D printing chocolate. With robust support materials emphasizing that 3D printing chocolate is a sophisticated mix of disciplines — additive manufacturing and that of the chocolatier — it’s surely the prime choice for 3D printing cocoa confections.

Price of this food 3D printer: By request only.

5. 3D Food Printer for Consumers: WASP Delta Printers

Italian 3D printer company WASP offers some amazing additions to their renowned Delta 3D printers. Their ceramic and food 3D printer extruders are excellent tools and nicely integrated systems. You can even prepare gluten-free 3D printed meals with it.

Price of this food 3D printers: Extruders start at $250; printers at approximately $2,400.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered Can An Ordinary 3D Printer 3D Print Food?

While we cover a good handful of dedicated food 3D printers in this guide, an often overlooked consideration is the ability to convert the hundreds of “conventional” fused filament fabrication 3D printers out there. Some have official thick paste attachments, and for the others there are many open-source alternatives that allow you to modify a 3D printer to extrude pastes.

Two manufacturers that come to mind with their own official paste extruders are WASP and ZMorph.

WASP’s 20 40 desktop delta 3D printers can be outfitted with what appears to be a modification of the company’s LDM extrusion system, which is typically suited for 3D printing clay and other ceramics.

Meanwhile ZMorph’s Thick Paste Extruder toolhead for the company’s modular ZMorph 2 SX 3D printer specifically allows for the extrusion of all thick pastes such as chocolate, cheese, dough and avocado.

Alternatively, since much of the world of desktop 3D printing is rooted in open-source, and 3D printers have existed in this capacity for some time now, so too have open-source paste extruders.

Going back in time to the Bree Pettis days of MakerBot (if this means nothing to you — check out the fascinating  Netflix documentary Print the Legend), there is the Frostruder — a 3D printer add-on for printing anything “squishy”. And looking to file repositories like Thingiverse, you can find printable mods for paste extrusion  — from simple mounts, to complete systems — for many desktop 3D printers.

In fact there are companies built around offering paste extrusion systems for existing standalone 3D printers. Structur3D is one such company. It created the Discov3ry paste extrusion system, and claim it works with almost any 3D printer that use Arduino/RAMPS boards.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered How Long Does it Take to 3D Print Food?

Unfortunately, 3D printing food takes a lot of time. Natural Machines, makers of the Foodini 3D printer, claims to be able to 3D print food in under one minute. We imagine the quantity would be quite small, though, as the company states on the same website, that it would take about 20 minutes to 3D print a detailed chocolate figure.

Probably best to plan ahead. Food 3D printers are, in their current state, definitely not suited to whipping up a quick snack.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered Who Uses Food 3D Printers?

food 3d printer

3D printed food is already being used in gourmet restaurants, the molecular kitchen and bakeries as well as creating easily masticable meals for seniors.

Back in 2016, two world-class chefs opened a temporary restaurant in London. In it, they debuted exquisite 3D printed food for a handful of guests

Bakers using Bocusini’s food 3D printers have made headlines for printing lifelike wedding cake toppers, and those with a love of a cheesy slice will be pleased to hear that pizza 3D printing is on track. One company exploring it received a big cash injection earlier in the year to develop its Chef3D system. Started to put 3D printed food in space for NASA, BeeHex could instead put a pie in our kitchens instead.

The uses are varied, and typically any scenario that involves the preparation of food is an area that could be touched upon  by food 3D printers in the future.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered Where Can I Eat 3D Printed Food?

If you live in a small town, the chances are small. To enjoy 3D printed food, you have to make your way to a larger city. And even then, you might have trouble finding a place to try 3D printed food.

Your best chances would be to try a high-tech, 3D printing or culinary convention, as the new technology hasn’t had widespread commercial success yet. Another option would be to just buy your own 3D printing food device.

The third way is to attend a conference on 3D printing food — which are becoming more common. Check All3DP’s conference calendar to see if there’s one near you anytime soon.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered How Much Does is Cost to 3D Print Food?

Like ordinary 3D printers, the prices vary. For example, the PancakeBot will set you back nearly $300 and the ByFlow Focus cuts a costly price at $3,700 — however, it is a  drastically more capable food 3D printer. Printers for commercial use like the illusive ChefJet could cost in the tens of thousands. On top of that, depending on the model, capsules containing special mixtures will have to be bought to accommodate the specific machine.

In general though, there’s little to no variety on the lower end of the price spectrum for purpose build food 3D printers.

Another option worth exploring would be adding a paste extrusion system onto an ordinary 3D printer. Some make this easier than others — the ZMorph 2.0 Thick Paste Extruder head being one example.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered Do I Need Special Ingredients for 3D Printing Food?

You can use ingredients from your grocery store. All you need to do is buy whatever you want to 3D print and turn it into a liquid with a suitable viscosity, and you’re ready to print. Systems like the Foodini will come with empty stainless steel capsules that you can then fill with your ingredients. While other printers such as the Bocusini require you to buy pre-filled cartridges like you do for your 2D paper printer at home.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered How Do You Design Food for 3D Printing?

The Bocusini food 3D printer or the PancakeBot provide easy to use software that lets you simply draw what you want the machine to print. This practical feature, unfortunately, is limited to a small set of 3D food printers. Most of the companies offering food 3D printers have recipe repositories where you can choose tested shaped for your 3D printed dishes.

If you want to make your own creation, ultimately, you’ll have to experiment with CAD programs to get to the shapes you want and export into a readable file format for your food 3D printer.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered Where Can I Get Designs for 3D Printing Food?

food 3d printer

Since food 3D printers are designed to be user-friendly, some manufacturers post recipes along with the downloadable files suitable for their machine. ByFlow, makers of the Focus suitcase food 3D printer are a good example, listing several recipes on their own website.

Pictured above is PancakeBot’s own design repository, where owners of the machine can upload their own designs for others to download.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered Do Food 3D Printers Also Cook the Food?

Most methods to 3D print food do not cook the food. For example, if you are 3D printing a pizza, the printer will extrude the dough and tomato sauce, but won’t cook it. You then have to manually put the pizza in the oven.

However, the “PancakeBot”, a machine that exists solely to print pancakes, extrudes the batter directly onto the hotplate. Unfortunately, this process also isn’t completely automatic, as the pancake needs to be manually flipped.

Generally speaking, food 3D printers are best served whipping up intriguing shapes of foods that do not require cooking. The print time takes long enough, without the added effort of cooking the delicate designs.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered What's the Future of 3D Printed Food?

Food by Design

Companies like Natural Machines see the future of 3D printing food as a faster and more precise operation, possibly even including more textures. You’re probably asking yourself, “I bet they’ll never be able to 3D print a steak”. Well if fact, a US startup called “Modern Meadow” is working on a technique to 3D print meat, without having to slaughter an animal at all.

The process includes using stem cells to create what they call “bio-ink”, which is then inserted into a nozzle similar to that of an inkjet 2D printer. The “live” bio-ink is then extruded into an agarose gel mold. After that, matures in a “bioreactor”, resulting organ tissue. The agarose gel is then removed, leaving us with the end product: authentic meat.

This process is also being developed in the field of medicine and could someday help grow an organ replacement from the patient’s very own cells. Being in its early stages of development, the process takes several days and costs a lot of money. But in the future, we may be able to watch our steak dinner grow in front of our eyes and be ready to cook in a matter of minutes, without the need to use animals.

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3D Printed Food Questions Answered How Does NASA 3D Print Food?

NASA is planning missions to Mars. According to NASA, these missions will take between one and three years to complete. During that time, astronauts need to eat and NASA is looking into ways to enhance their life support systems, including the possibility of 3D printing meals.

The agency has looked to additive manufacturing techniques to solve this problem by endorsing a company called Systems and Materials Research Corporation. The Texas-based company has already come up with a system that prints pizza out of a combination of powders containing the necessary nutrients needed by humans. This is an important step in space travel, as NASA plans to delve deeper into space on longer and longer missions.

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