A food company in Germany is working on a way of 3-D printing almost any food. In a few years time, you’ll be able to take a carrot, puree it, then print it back into something like its original shape. But why, you might be asking. What’s wrong with the original?
The answer is that a lot of people can’t eat normal food, because of swallowing or chewing problems. Millions of elderly suffer from dysphagia, for example, which causes food to stick in the throat, or in the worst case, go right into the lungs. 3-D printed food potentially offers an alternative to current fare, which is basically thickened paste.
“Eating is the most important event in a nursing home for the elderly,” says Matthias Kück, who leads the company developing the printer. “People come together and talk. If you see your neighbor is eating a roulade, and all you see on your own plate is unidentifiable porridge-type meat mass, it’s a mirror. It says you’re old, you only eat this type of food, and really what is the purpose of staying on Earth?”
That may be over-stating it. But you can see Kück’s point. Eating goo when someone else is enjoying steak isn’t good. The idea with 3-D printing is to create something more life-like while changing the texture to a consistency that dysphagia-sufferers can handle.
The idea is an extension of existing technology, which lets nursing homes create moldable shapes, Kück explains. A cook heats food, blitzes it down, strains out the liquid, then reforms it using some gelatin. The printer, which has 48 adjustable nozzles, instead exudes the liquid before it sets, recreating food one layer at a time. “It works a bit like an ink jet printer,” Kück says.
Biozoon, the company, has only fashioned a sausage so far. But Kück is confident the machine, which is funded by a European Union program, will eventually make “everything.”
“Later on, we’ll be able to produce broccoli, carrots, chicken wings,” he says. “The challenge at the moment is to develop a jellified system that allows the layers to stick together.”
The first foods should be ready by the end of 2015. Anyone hungry?