Could your burger be 3D printed?
Could your burger be 3D printed?
It’s no secret that the 3D printing world and the culinary world are starting to overlap. For a long time, now, people have been trying to find ways to print out food and serve it to customers. While there are problems with a number of the processes, could we be going toward a future where our food is printed for us, rather than cooked by a chef.
How Cooking and 3D Printing Are Similar
At first thought, you almost certainly don’t see the similarities between cooking and 3D printing - I know I didn’t!
When you start to boil the two methods down to their base ideas, though, you realize that they can be quite similar. Both processes are, essentially methods where specially chosen ingredients are arranged in such a way that they can serve a given purpose. It just so happens that the ingredients for 3D printing are typically plastic, rather than the foodstuffs you might have in your pantry.
When you start to consider food in this way, you start to spot more and more similarities. The one that really surprised me to consider is the fact that when a pastry chef or a chocolatier moulds something for a specific purpose (for example, a specifically shaped piece of chocolate for a particular dish), they’re essentially doing a low-tech version of what a 3D printer does. They’re pouring a liquid into a mould which will set, while a 3D printer is ‘pouring’ printing compound into a ‘mould’ that you’ve programmed into it. While there’s no physical mould on a 3D printer, the similarities are striking.
Benefits and Constraints
There are a number of benefits and constraints to introducing 3D printers to the world of food.
The big two benefits, really, are a reduction in staffing costs, and an increase in reproducibility.
The staffing cost example is quite self-explanatory, though it’s worth considering in a more detailed way. While there is the obvious loss of the cost of not hiring specialized chefs to cook a specific dish, there is also the savings in environmental costs. 3D printers can do their work in a number of situations where chefs could not - for example, overnight or in the dark. This means that businesses have a truly diverse piece of equipment in their kitchen.
Secondly, we come to the idea of an increase in the general reproducibility of food. There’s a reason why Starbucks coffee is so rigorously monitored - it’s to ensure that the customer gets the same every time. A chef might make some small changes with each dish they make, though you can virtually guarantee that a printer will make the exact same dish every time - this can be great for the customer.
The main constraint about using 3D printing in the culinary world is that it’s just not ready yet. 3D printing is a deeply complex and time-intensive process that you may not have time for in a kitchen. Especially when you consider that you might have to start all over again if the printer makes a tiny mistake.
3D printing is increasing in usability every day. In a few years, it’s likely that the printing process will be nearly flawless, and a lot faster to boot. In that case, I would certainly argue that printers will be used in restaurant environments. As soon as they’re cheap, fast, and dependable, they will be adopted en masse.
How To Make Progress
Obviously, there are other constraints than just the technology not being ready yet. There are a hundred and one smaller problems that make up that large one. To have 3D printing be adopted within the food industry, we need to first solve those problems.
So, to answer the question that I posed in the title, I would have to say - no, not right now. There are a lot of issues, from speed to dependability, plus whether a printer would be able to quickly switch out the ‘ink’ from lettuce to beef at the drop of a hat. However, I do think that we’ll get there with time.
What do you think? Do you believe that over time, food will become more robot-created, and if so, do you believe that 3D printing will be a part of that? Whatever comes next, I’ll be excited to eat it.
Could your burger be 3D printed written by Lewis Brindley
Lewis is a freelance writer from the UK, specializing in food writing. He's been fascinated by food technology for a long time, and enjoys writing about it in articles like this one.' Would that suit you? I'll be attaching a headshot to this message. You can contact Lewis here