Imagine that you are in your kitchen a few years from now and decide you want to try this new pastry that's gone viral. The recipe for the pastry involves mixing the ingredients in a certain way and then cooking them with the help of a 3D printer.
Columbia University Mechanical Engineering Professor Hod Lipson said he envisions that recipe being available for download, but also being customizable so that the food meets your medical needs and taste preferences.
"What’s important about food printing is that it marries software with cooking in a very fundamental way. It’s not just a new way to make old things."
That's why Lipson and his students have been working to develop a 3D printer that could one day sit alongside your everyday kitchen appliances like a microwave, a toaster or a coffee maker.
"If you think about it, most people don’t make anything at home, except food," Lipson said. "But everybody, has sort of a workshop at home where they make food, we call it our kitchen. So this idea that you make food at home is very natural and I think that it makes sense that eventually, we’ll want robotics and software to enter our kitchen and start helping us with that task."
Lipson said the current 3D food printer prototype can transform pastes, gels, powders or liquids into an edible meal.
To test how the 3D food printer works, Lipson's team decided to collaborate with the people who know food better than anyone: chefs.
By working with the New York City-based International Culinary Center, Lipson and his team were able to both test the prototype and experiment with new types of food.
"It expanded our notion of what people want to print and how important it is to actually combine multiple ingredients," Lipson said.
He added that one of the biggest takeaways was that it's not just enough to print something, people want food to be cooked as it's printed.
"One of the things we learned is that it’s all about mixing ingredients," Lipson added. "So just having a food printer that can handle two or three ingredients is not enough, you have to handle 20 ingredients or so."
According to a post by the university, the whole idea of collaborating with chefs was to explore "the potential of printed food, to create and document the student-designed recipes, and unveil what food in 2025 might look like."
Although Lipson doesn't see 3D food printing replacing conventional cooking, he said it could greatly expand our food horizons.
"We’re stuck in these ancient ways of cooking," Lispons said. "Once we expand how we cook and start using software and automation, we can make things that would be amazing."
It's unclear just how long it will take for this to hit the marketplace, but Lipson said it will likely happen within a decade.
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