3D-printed steak is now on the menu
When you hear about 3D printing, you probably think about DIY manufacturing and plastic objects. But even though a recent study by the University of Canberra revealed that none of the Australians interviewed had heard of food being 3D printed, it's absolutely on the menu. It might sound a little odd but a printer can create delicious, nutritious food.
What ink goes into 3D-printed food?
When it comes to additive manufacturing (which is the process used to create a three-dimensional product), we’re discovering more and more materials can be used to create ‘ink’ – and food is no different.
As with regular 3D printing, the key is making sure your chosen ink can be released from the printer’s nozzle, and there’s no shortage of suitable foodstuffs. According to research from the University of Canberra, viable ‘inks’ include “food pastes, purees, powders, doughs, liquids and gels made from substances such as sugar, chocolate, cheese, flour and purees made from meat, vegetables or fruit.”
And while coming out of a nozzle means it’s not able to create, say, a perfect steak, the device doesn’t just pump out mush – these machines are making surprisingly sophisticated and carefully textured grub.
Take the Foodini, which can create “pastas (ravioli, gnocchi, spaghetti...), burgers (veggie and meat), chicken nuggets (and chickpea nuggets as a vegetarian alternative), quiche, pizza, ‘designer’ fish and chips, hash browns, cookies, crackers, brownies, chocolate etc.”
Noting that this is new tech, the company has also flagged the possibility that even more textures should be possible.
How does it work?
Obviously there is a range of machines on the market, each with their own quirks, but if we use the Foodini as an example, the creation process is pretty straightforward.
The printer has five capsules that cook up a storm. You choose what you want to create and the printer tells you which ingredients to load into which capsules, and it does the rest.
With no oven in the device, you’ll have to then bake, cook or fry the printed meal, but prep time is significantly reduced.
How does 3D printing taste?
The beauty of food is that it’s totally subjective – what tastes wonderful to one person may be totally unappealing to another. So, whether 3D food tastes any good is entirely up to the person who’s tackling it.
Still, some seriously qualified chefs believe that 3D-printed food can create top-quality grub – as in some of the best food in the world.
Paco Pérez has five Michelin stars across his three restaurants and at Miramar – his two-Michelin starred flagship venue, in Llançà in Spain – the chef uses 3D printers to create fine dining experiences.
Pérez told Michelin Guide that Miramar prints seafood puree on a dish because its intricate design is “too complicated to produce by hand”.
If it’s good enough for one of the best chefs in the world, it's good enough for our tastebuds.
Printing a healthier future
More than just an option for uber-rich foodies on the Costa Brava, 3D printing could also help feed people the world over.
In 2013, NASA awarded an entrepreneur named Anjan Contractor $125,000 to further his research into 3D-printed food. Why would a space agency be interested? Well, they have plans to send people on extensive missions into deep space – like Mars – where they won't be able to replenish their food supplies.
NASA said it was “interested in developing methods that will provide food to meet safety, acceptability, variety and nutritional stability requirements for long exploration missions, while using the least amount of spacecraft resources and crew time.”
The supplies for a 3D printer can be stored as powders that don't need refrigeration and they don't take up much space, so they are an obvious contender for a space kitchen.
How does it help us on Earth? With our global population growing by the day, we need to start manufacturing more food if all the hungry mouths are to be fed. And if powdered ingredients can last decades, seasons of low-yield crops would be far less of an issue – we’d just use the 3D-printed food ingredients we stored when times were good.
With Aussie farmers wasting up to 40 per cent of their annual crop yield due to supermarket standards, 3D printing could spell an end for food wastage as we know it.
Speaking to Good Food, Dr Angeline Achariya, CEO of the Food Innovation Centre at Monash University, gave the example of how we could reuse ‘imperfect’ bananas:
"So you could actually take those bananas and add an emulsifier or binder, just like so many other products have, and turn it into a sellable product. Or re-use home leftovers."
Hey presto – a 3D-printed hit of potassium that’s good for the environment!