3D print your own breakfast A 3D printed dish made with the lab's printer. (Timothy Lee Photographers, Columbia University)
3D print your own breakfast
Lexile

Imagine coming down for breakfast. Instead of popping a piece of toast in the toaster and boiling an egg, you stick a cartridge in a printer. You wait a minute or two. Then you’ve got a freshly printed banana and flaxseed muffin.

The printed breakfast is several steps closer to reality for the average consumer.

"Food printing may be the 'killer app' of 3D printing." That's according to Hod Lipson. He's led the creation of the new printer. "It's completely uncharted territory." 

Lipson is a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University. He has been studying 3D printing for nearly 20 years and working on printing things like plastics, metals, electronics and biomaterials. His work on 3D food printing came out of his research on printing complete 3D robots. They could, in theory, “walk off the printer.”

To achieve something like this, a printer must be able to print with many materials at the same time. Lipson experimented with making multi-material printers. He noticed the students in his lab were beginning to use food as a test material.

“They were using cookie dough, cheese, chocolate, all kinds of food materials you might find around an engineering lab,” he says. “In the beginning, it was sort of a frivolous thing. But when people came to the lab and looked at it, they actually got really excited by the food printing.”

So Lipson and his team began to take a more serious look at just what they could do with food. There are two basic approaches to 3D food printing, Lipson explains. The first involves using powders. They are bound together during the printing process with a liquid such as water. The second approach is extrusion-based. It uses syringes that deposit gels or pastes in specific locations.

Lipson’s prototype involves an infrared cooking element that cooks various parts of the printed product at specific times.

“We’ve used all kinds of materials, with different levels of success,” Lipson says. “Sometimes the materials are conventional. Cream cheese is something students like to work with a lot.”

They’ve also recently collaborated with a New York culinary school, letting chefs play around with the prototype.

“They kind of broke the machine by really pushing it to its limits,” Lipson says. “One thing we’ve learned is printing in cream cheese is very easy, but printing in polenta and beets is very hard. It has these granules in it, so from an engineering standpoint it’s much more challenging.”

It’s also difficult to predict how different foods will fare when combined. It’s easy enough to create recipes based on single items like chocolate, whose properties are well-established. But when you start to mix things together - mixing, of course, being fundamental to cooking - the mixtures may have much more complex behaviors. 

Another challenge is figuring out when to cook what during the printing process. If you’re printing a pyramid of salmon and mashed potatoes, the salmon and the potatoes will need very different cooking times and temperatures. The team is tackling this problem with software design, working with computer scientists to create software that will predict what the final product will look like after cooking.

The printer Lipson's team has made is not the only food printer to be developed in recent years. But products like Hershey’s chocolate-printing CocoJet or the Magic Candy Factory’s 3D gummy printer are single-ingredient, limiting their use for the general public. Lipson’s printer is unique for being able to handle many ingredients at once, and cook them as it goes.

Lipson sees the printer as having two main uses for consumers. First, it could be a specialty appliance for cooking novel foods difficult to achieve by any other process. You could print, say, a complex pastry designed by someone in Japan, a recipe you’d never have the expertise or equipment to make by hand. Lipson says he could imagine digital recipes going viral, spreading across the globe. 

The second use is about health and targeted nutrition. People are already increasingly interested in personal biometrics, tracking their blood pressure, pulse, calorie burn and more using cell phones and computers. In the future, it may be possible to track your own health in much greater detail - your blood sugar, your calcium needs or your current vitamin D level. The printer could then respond to those details with a customized meal, produced from a cartridge of ingredients.

“Imagine a world where the breakfast that you eat has exactly what you need that day,” Lipson says. “Your muffin has, say, a little less sugar, a little more calcium.”

As for when the printer might be available to consumers, Lipson says it’s more a business challenge than a technology one.

“How do you get FDA approval? How do you sell the cartridges? Who owns the recipe? How do you make money off this?” he says. “It’s a completely new way of thinking about food. It’s very radical.”

A recent redesign of the prototype may bring the product closer to being something the average consumer would accept. Previous versions of the printer were very high-tech, full of tubes and sticking-out nozzles. People had a hard time imagining it on their kitchen counters.

Then, one of Lipson’s students named Drim Stokhuijzen, an industrial designer, completely redesigned the machine, giving it the sleek look of a high-end coffee maker.

“His design is so beautiful people are saying for the first time, ‘oh, I can see the appeal of food printing, this is something I might actually use,’” Lipson says.

Although Lipson doesn’t think 3D food printing will replace other cooking techniques, he does think it will upgrade the kitchen.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
If you could 3D print your breakfast, what would it be and why?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (57)
  • Charlesm-dav
    9/25/2017 - 08:53 a.m.

    My opinion to this article is that it was amazing that they could 3D print food out of tiny cartridges with all of the ingredients. I would 3D print waffles and pancakes because they are flat and don't need many things to make it. This machine will change the way we have food!

  • Griffinf-dav
    9/25/2017 - 08:54 a.m.

    In response to "3D Print Your Own Breakfast," I agree that this will become a household appliance used by many
    people. One reason I agree is because it can cook you foods that you might not be able to find at your local grocery store. Another reason is that it is not gigantic and hard to move or manage. A third reason is that you can customize your meal to make sure it has the right ingredients for you. Even though it may cost a lot of money, it still will make your life a lot easier, especially in the kitchen.

  • Meganm-dav
    9/25/2017 - 08:55 a.m.

    If I could 3D print my breakfast, it would be pancakes and bacon. It would be pancakes and bacon because it is a very easy and tasty thing to make that would be faster to print than to hand make. You would not have to wait for the food to cook then flip it then wait longer, you would hit start, then go sit down. I think that it is a good idea to have a 3D printer print breakfast because when you wake up late you can hit start, get ready then grab your food as you are running out the door. It would be a much simpler thing that you would not have to wait on.

  • Annas-dav1
    9/25/2017 - 08:56 a.m.

    If i could 3D print my breakfast I would probably make nutella toast and waffles. The waffles could take forever to make because I took a design and modeling class last year and it took 6 hours to make a cube. Since waffles are so fluffy it could end up like my cube. I would make Nutella for a few reasons. One because it is delicious, and the other reason is because since it is a liquid it would be cool to see it 3D print and to see how long it takes. I think 3D food printing is a outstanding idea for 2017, because all families have somewhere to be and it is basically like having your own robot make breakfast for you!

  • Bradenc-dav
    9/25/2017 - 08:56 a.m.

    I think that 3D printing food is pretty cool. Can you imagine what could be done if we had this technology. I think that who ever invented this is a genus. I really hope in the future we will be able to use this technology. I agree that this will help with diets and many other things with health.

  • Sadieb-dav
    9/25/2017 - 08:56 a.m.

    In response to "3D print your own breakast," I agree that there are many advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing your meals. One reason that I think there are advantages to it, is that it would be able to cook complex meals like an advanced pastry that you may have never been able to make before. Another reason is that it would allow you to keep a balanced nutrition by calculating a targeted diet. It says in the article that foods could be customized to fit what vitamins or other nutrients you need specifically. A reason that I think there could be disadvantages is that there is no telling how different foods will react when combined. Mixing is important when cooking most meals, but mixing different foods into a 3D printer could result in different behaviors. Even though there are disadvantages, I think that there are many benefits that could come from 3D printing your meals.

  • Tylerk-dav1
    9/25/2017 - 08:58 a.m.

    In response to " 3D Print Your Own Breakfast," I disagree that 3D printing will be a big use in kitchens. One reason I disagree is because what if you get poison from the food. Another reason is that you might be printing something and then the printer catches fire and that wouldn't be save. A third reason is that what is you don't get what you what you wanted to print. That is very unreliable.

  • Justing-dav1
    9/25/2017 - 08:59 a.m.

    I think it is cool that you could 3D print your breakfast. It upgrades the kitchen, and provides quick and easy food. I would 3D print my breakfast for easy food.

  • Abigailm-dav
    9/25/2017 - 09:00 a.m.

    In response to "3D print your own breakfast" I agree with this idea to print your own breakfast. First of all, I think that it is a great way for people to save money. Secondly, many people buy a bag of chips, because it is cheaper than fruit, and this product is a good way for more people to eat better. It says in the artical, "The second use is about health and targeted nutrition." Lastly, this is a great advancement is technology and could lead to other ways to stay healthy. Although it is a great way to stay healthy and on budget, it doesn't say if people have tryed to eat the food that is printed to see if it is safe to eat, and the article didn't say if it has any side effects, or lead to health problems.

  • Sethm-dav1
    9/25/2017 - 09:00 a.m.

    In response to "3D print your own breakfast" I agree that we should some day print are breakfast.The reasons i agree is it would make people's life easier. It could also help people get a better diet "a little less sugar, a little more calcium" that proves it is healthier. It could fun way for you or your family to make breakfast without burning or injuring yourself.Even though it could take longer to cook you don't have to be hands on cooking the whole time you could read a book.

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