An average processed snack travels 1,300 miles to the grocery store. But the snack of the future may be hyper-local: A new concept design considers how 3-D printing could transform processed food, making it both healthier and possible to produce inside cities.
The idea was developed by Dutch designer Chloé Rutzerveld, who was approached by research organization TNO to explore the idea of 3-D printed food. “As a foodie who loves fresh salads and unprocessed foods, I was very skeptical about printing food,” she says.
“At this point, companies have only succeeded in printing sugar sculptures, chocolate, and other unhealthy sweets, transforming product A into product A with a different shape,” she explains in an email. “I used my skepticism to find answers on how we could use this technology to create natural, healthy, sustainable, and nutrient-rich food.”
In her concept, called Edible Growth, a printer would print a base layer from pasta or dough, filled with multiple inner layers of seeds, spores, and yeast. Within five days, the mushrooms and plants inside would grow into a tasty snack.
Urban farmers would print the snack–customized to your specific tastes or nutritional needs–and then you’d take it home. “The consumer will buy the base printed directly inside a recyclable greenhouse,” Rutzerveld explains. “The base includes everything the mini ecosystem needs to develop into a fully edible, nutrient-rich product.”
There are several benefits to growing snacks this way, including reducing the size of the supply chain and food waste, as well as making better use of raw materials. On-demand printing would mean less agricultural land is needed.
It will take some time before the technology is ready to actually produce food this complex. “3-D printing with food is not very simple, which is why often only sugar, chocolate, and dough are successfully printed at this point,” Rutzerveld says. Developers will also have to make sure that the system can meet food-safety requirements.
Since it doesn’t yet exist, Rutzerveld made an approximation of the snacks for her research. “In order to let the public experience this future food product I made little pastries,” she says. “The sweetish taste of the savory pie dough in combination with the spicy watercress and flat taste of raw mushrooms was amazing, actually.”