The world of 3D printing spans nearly every industry, from media to medicine. Though it may feel like something out of the Jetsons, 3D printed food is a reality today, with new machines that heat up delicious ingredients and shape them as you like.
First, 3D Systems has designed two sugar-based printers, the Chef Jet and Chef Jet Pro. Intended for restaurants that make haute cuisine, the Chef Jet Pro "extrudes" layers of dry sugar and then crystallizes them into hard formations with focused jets of water. This method allows chefs to create candy designs in nearly any shape imaginable.
Next, the Barcelona-based company Natural Machines have created a device called Foodini, which also looks just like a normal 3D printer. In fact, Foodini can handle many kitchen duties that lead up to actually cooking the food. It may not be quite the futuristic marvel that you're expecting, however, as the machine doesn't replicate food like magic. Instead, it shapes the food with specialized capsules or ingredients provided by the user. This works particularly well with soft and malleable foods, such as cookies, dough, purees, candies, and fillings.
To make pizza, for example, the device squirts out dough in a spiral shape until it reaches a respectable size. Then, it adds a layer of tomato sauce, and users are left to decide what toppings to put on. While this might seem like a lot of technology for a simple task, it will save you time if you're preparing a lot of pizzas. These printers can be customized to fit any shape, so if you want to make cookies that look like your favorite cartoon characters, it can be easily done. With a simple vector image, this 3D printer has the ability to turn that data into an automated food process. It might sound like magic, but it's possible.
Currently, Foodini is only able to reach temperatures of 212°F (or 100°C), which is not hot enough to cook most food. Users will still have to stick their 3D printed food into an oven to complete the process, so don't think cooking has been solved by robots just yet. However, once your food has finished baking, you can use the printer for any final touches, such as icing, melted chocolate, or cheese. By taking advantage of the machine's current heat technology, it becomes easy to melt down foods like chocolate and shape them like a sculptor.
So here's the rub: these printers are not available on the mass market yet. According to Natural Machines' website, their food printer is scheduled for a limited production run by the end of 2014, with mass production to start sometime before Summer 2015. The company estimates that Foodini will cost around $1,300 (or €1,000), which is about the same price as a luxury food processor. The Chef Jet is estimated to cost about $5000, but the full release information hasn't been officially announced. For now, we can still daydream about a future life where robots cook us five-course meals from scratch.
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