3D Printers Could Become A Household Cooking Appliance — But Not Quite Yet

Printing Pasta
New pasta shapes may be coming, thanks to 3D printing. Shutterstock

3D printers have been all over lately, cropping up as a possible choice for manufacturing items ranging from pills to robotics. Adding food to that list may be a reality quite soon, if Italian pasta corporation Barilla and Dutch research center TNO have anything to say about it.

For four years, the two have been testing manufacturing prototypes that produce new shapes of pasta.This may not sound very exciting, but there’s more to it than one might think.

“At the moment, it is still a prototype allowing us to print pasta in shapes that otherwise can’t be easily replicated,” said Michela Petrino, R&D deputy head at Barilla, in a press release. “This is important because you feel differently than eating spaghetti or penne, and 3D printing opens up largely unexplored horizon in the field of food design.”

According to Petrino, there is still a long way to go. The next steps in the process will concern the balance and consistency of the different ingredients. They also aim to determine which applications would be the most interesting to consumers.

In the next few years, however, 3D printers may very well become a household kitchen appliance. Spanish company Natural Machine hopes to release a limited pre-sale series of Foodini by late 2015. The appliance would cost about $1,500 and would use common ingredients.

“Our aim is to ease the way to prepare homemade healthier food,” said Lynette Kucsma, the chief marketing officer and co-founder of Natural Machine.

Foodini is unique because it allows consumers to print not only one type of food, but to fill capsules with different ingredients. This extends the range of printable food.

Foodini and Barilla are using the same technology, called fused deposed modeling (FDM), which consists of setting out ingredients layer by layer, eventually producing a specific shape. The printer even has the capability of allowing powder bed printing, which involves wetting a layer of powder that functions as a sort of glue.

“The first technique is the closest to market,” said Daniel van der Linden, who works at TNO, “although powder bed printing offers more possibilities with regard to shape and scaling of the technology.”

There are many aspects of the printers for the companies to consider before they could sell it as a day-to-day device. Firstly, the speed of the printers must increase — they have been able to move from making one piece of pasta in two minutes to making 15, but the idea is to reach a pace suitable for widespread production, according to Linden.

Also, the simple fact that the food exiting the machine may be unappetizing is an issue as well.

“It’s one thing to prepare a small amount of food that consists of a mix of lyophilized nutritious ingredients aimed at keeping a handful of astronauts alive,” said Giorgio Calabrese, a doctor and nutritionist who teaches at several universities, “but quite another to prepare a meal to feed a family every day. I don’t rule out that it will happen at some point, but I think we are a long way off still.”

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