Apr 15, 2014

3D Printing and Food: Now and the Future

While 3D printing food will not currently solve global hunger or halt the rise of obesity by replacing foods too high in fat, salt or sugar with perfectly balanced nutritional food, it’s a technology that has potential for growth across the food chain. Farms can implement 3D printing to replace broken or obsolete machine parts. New products made out of insects can appeal to protein-seekers who prefer to not eat red meat. For retailers with bakeries and catering outfits, food presentation can achieve new creative heights. Smaller models at prices under $300 are emerging, and according to a Forbes survey on 3D Printers, millennials “were more likely to state they wanted to buy a 3D printer.” The question is, how many of those folks will use them to make food?

“Top down,” “Bottom up” & “Biological”:

Jeff Lipton, of the Cornell Creative Machines Lab and Co-Founder, Seraph Robotics, categorizes 3D printers and their use in food applications with these three schools of thought. “Top down” is what he personally subscribes to. “Take real good food and make it into interesting shaped food,” says Lipton. “You take local ingredients, meter them and shape them into the right form for you. You get a fresh cookie from fresh cookie dough. It makes it for you.”

“Bottom up” is what Lipton describes as “starting with low-level ingredients and building up from proteins and fats and carbs and replicating a large number of foods.“ Such ingredients could be insects. In different worlds, insects are an accepted source of protein. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations issued the report Edible Insects: Future prospects for food and feed security, marking “the first attempt by FAO to document all aspects of the insect food and feed value chain, with the aim of enabling a comprehensive assessment of the contribution of insects to food and feed security.”

Susana Soares’ Insects Au Gratin project was inspired when she learned that, “On average 100 grams of insects are double the protein compared to 100 grams of red meat; and only four crickets add the same calcium as a glass of milk.” She knew people would balk at eating bugs if they were not designed in an aesthetically appealing fashion, which is why she printed the insect paste into ornate biscuits. “Initially the project was designed to be a public engagement tool, and the kind of futurist look comes from microscopic images of insect patterns (insect wings, eggs, legs, etc.),” explains Soares. “The presentation of the insect paste in this way gets people’s attention showing that food has a huge value and we don’t normally appreciate this fact. Perhaps in the future as pricey as a jewelry gem...” Interview with Susana Soares, Insects Au Gratin Project

“Biological” is described by Lipton as “Bio-fabrication to grow artificial meat.  Making meat in a more efficient way than a cow.“ A company that does this is Modern Meadow. “They brew some cells that are ecologically efficient. They take a biopsy from the worlds best cow and make the world’s best piece of meat every time. They adjust the fat content in the meat, get the proportions you want and incubate it," says Lipton. "Unfortunately, right now for any company in this space, 3D printing a hamburger can cost a minimum of $100,000.” Modern Meadow is also making cultured leather without any animal slaughter. Interview with Jeff Lipton, Cornell Creative Machines Lab and C0-Founder, Seraph Robotics

Nutrition and FDA Regulation:

A healthier America is a positive component to 3D printers’ potential for more personalized nutrition. In a TED Talk, 3D Systems Avi Reichental, said food and 3D printing means “the promise of personalized nutrition is right around the corner.” There still remains the issue of food safety on a more commercial level.  According to Tech Republic on food safety, “In order to more safely produce 3D printed food and kitchenware, there may be a need for an FDA-approved machine. People probably don't want to eat genetically-engineered pizza off of toxic plates.” The concern lies not so much in an FDA-approved plastic, but in the various parts where bacteria can thrive or a brass nozzle which could pose lead contamination. Also, how will the FDA regulate the machines if models are made to be open-source (in this case meaning “universal access via free license to a product's design or blueprint) like the RepRap which can print many of its own components (a self-replicating machine).

Big Brands and Retail: 

While Hersey Co made an announcement in February of its agreement with 3D Systems Corp. to develop edible 3D printing, it is still years in the making. In a voice mail, a representative from Hershey's said, "Entering this agreement was to begin an exploration that will span multiple years. Folks beginning this work say there are really no actual details to share at this stage. I hope there is movement, but it is measured in years at this stage." Mondelez International partnered with Twitter to host an Oreo Trending Vending Lounge at the SXSW Interactive Festival, 3D printing “deliciously hyper-personalized and customized snacks based on real-time data collection.” (Read more about Mondelez Trending Vending)

Supermarkets don’t appear to be jumping on the bandwagon to install 3D printers at this time. The UK nationwide chain York will be offering customers the opportunity to 3D print… but not food. The customers can scan themselves to produce a miniature self-model.  

For now, consumers take it upon themselves to fund 3D printers through Kickstarter (world’s largest funding platform for creative projects) campaigns.  While the Micro has a low price tag of $299 and touts itself as “the first truly consumer 3D printer,” it does not focus on food. The Foodini by Natural Machines labels itself “a new generation kitchen appliance” and promotes healthy eating.

 

Interview with Susana Soares, Insects Au Gratin Project

The Food Journal: You developed Insects Au Gratin in collaboration with Andrew Forkes (designer, focusing on 3D printing technologies) and Dr. Ken Spears (food scientist) based at the London South Bank University. What prompted your work with consuming insects through 3D printing methods?

Susana Soares: I work with insects quite a lot, and I have always been interested in food and food production. I was researching a project proposal for Pestival Institute (where exhibitions focus on human insect relationships) and attending a TED Talk by entomologist and professor Marcel Dicke. He talked about eating insects in the Western society as an alternative to protein. He had very good arguments about eating insects. On average 100 grams of insects are double the protein compared to 100 grams of red meat. Only four crickets add the same calcium as a glass of milk. The United Nations made an appeal in 2008/2009 to cut the consumption of red meat because it contributes to 18% of all greenhouse gases… so it is a very unsustainable way of sustaining protein. Soy and tofu as proteins also waste water and other resources. I liked the idea of using a new technology, so I decided I could use insects and involve 3D printers as another way of cooking.  

The Food Journal: You speak on your web site of the presentation of the food being a key deterrent of why people don't eat insects. Is that why you printed the paste into ornate biscuits?

Susana Soares: Initially the project was designed to be a public engagement tool and the kind of futurist look comes from microscopic images of insect patterns (insect wings, eggs, legs, etc.). It also intends to convey the idea that food is very, and will become more, valuable. Perhaps in the future as pricey as a jewelry gem… Also, aesthetically, if I was presented with a pig’s head in medieval times, I would balk. Same with insects that are not disguised even though an average person eats a kilo of bugs a year (e.g in cereals and peanut butter). That is why the presentation of the insect paste in this way moves people’s attention from it being insects and rather showing that food has a huge value. We don’t normally appreciate this fact. A week ago, I did an event in Luxembourg, and people were keen to eat the insect paste biscuits because it is novel and from a food printer. We are part of a cultural evolution with food.

The Food Journal: How do you see 3D printing changing the way people would cook and eat?

Susana Soares: Using spoons, forks, plates, chopping boards etc. to prepare food comes as a result of centuries of food preparation and cooking. Designing food through 3D food technologies is an interesting way of cooking. You can cook with your computer with CAD software. Professional chefs largely detest these 3D printing technologies. In my opinion, it is a new way of cooking. It won’t take away utensils, the smell of food, or the use of one’s hands. It’s just an interesting new way. 

The 3D printer technologies are open source so anyone with an interest in it can buy a printer and adapt. It gives the decision making to people. People can print insect food at home which is a very sustainable way of producing food or cooking. They can also control the nutrients precisely so there is not waste.  

The Food Journal: How is the government in the UK responding to regulating insects in food?

Susana Soares: Because there is political will in Europe, there is a lot of interest in finding other protein alternatives. The government is keen on whatever research is going on and not just with insects in the food chain. One huge advantage for us is insects don’t consume antibiotics. There will have to be a whole new vetting process for bugs. It is a grey area of legislation and rules. Companies in the Netherlands are producing insects for human consumption. The good thing about the insects is variety is the key. We are not suggesting exclusivity but rather not consuming the same food like meat every day over and over, but adding in a variety and using local. There are at least 1,200 insects that you can eat that are edible. There are trillions of insects around the world, some of them are pests. We can consume these kinds of pests.  

The Food Journal: What do you see overall to be the future of 3D printing and food?  How can it continue to evolve in the food chain? 

Susana Soares:  3D technology is not the new microwave.  At the moment it’s a novelty. Here is what I think will happen… food is becoming more pricey and we are becoming the pests.  There are too many of us for this planet.  There are shrinking resources for our global food security.  We have to be very precise about nutrients and at a certain point we eat too many.  We have to take measures.  We are not going to stop having children but I could see there being a ration like in wartime.  It is not fair to point the finger at India and China, to tell them they can’t eat meat every day when we did that for years.  Meat production is very unsustainable and won’t support the demands of the public.  We have to change our diets at some point and one day that could be through 3D printing.  Right now, I see 3D printing mainly used for specific applications in medical environments and for more commercial uses. 

The Food Journal: Where do you see your insect and 3D printing projects going?

Susana Soares: The project got popular and so we are considering a more commercial perspective.  We have researchers using the flour and paste to do cereal paste and bars. We are in the process of creating a company and are developing food aid snacks like a high-protein high-energy bars for extreme situations.  We are also developing a sample of a program to engage children on food sustainability and safety including eating insects and 3D food printing technologies.  The UK government kids and food education programs have been very successful.  Kids can be very keen on trying new foods.

 

Interview with Jeff Lipton, Cornell Creative Machines Lab and C0-Founder, Seraph Robotics

The Food Journal: How did you get involved with Cornell’s exploration into 3D Printers and Solid Freeform Fabrication (SFF) of food?

Jeff Lipton: I was a sophomore working at Cornell’s particle accelerator and one of my good friends, Maxim Lobovsky (now co-founder and CEO of FormLabs) said he worked at the coolest lab on campus. I didn’t believe him, so I went over to his lab, cede his point and have been working on 3D printing ever since. It’s by accident that the Creative Machines Lab is involved with food. It came about with the Fab@home project. The Project started in 2005, and by 2007, it released its first printer that allowed you to print anything but plastic. Home users eventually got bored with printing silicone and epoxy, so they started putting peanut butter, Cheese Whiz and Nutella in the printer. Noy Schaal, a high school student from Kentucky (her father was friends with Hod Lipson, the PI of the Creative Machines Lab) came to the Lab for a few weeks, and they developed a heater for the Fab@home and 3D printed chocolate with it. 

It was a nice academic success, but then we tried to create flavor and nutrient additives and build food from the ground up. The undergraduate students we made taste it said that while it tastes and feels ok, the completely processed food experience was horrible. So we brought in Chef David Arnold from the British Culinary Institute and we made celery and turkey. We made the ground turkey puree, and then we added in transglutaminase which solidifies it. Then we pre mixed it in, 3D printed it, and it hardened into ground turkey.

The Food Journal:  What are some of the visions with 3D printing of food?

Jeff Lipton: I look at it as three schools of thought – “top down”, “bottom up” and “biological.” Top down is what I personally subscribe to – take real good food and make it into interesting shaped food. You take local ingredients, meter them and shape them into the right form for you. You get a fresh cookie from fresh cookie dough. It makes it for you.

“Bottom up” is starting with low -level ingredients and building up from proteins and fats and carbs and replicating a large number of foods. TNO in the Netherlands is a company pursing nutrient based work in 3D printing. Susana Soares at the London South Bank University is using 3D printing to make eating insects more palatable. There is a whole community of people eating insects but I am not a part of that group. Richard Archer at the University of Massey in New Zealand is making a long shelf life material for printing. The over all goal is to make food from really efficient nutrient sources (like protein from insects and carbs from algae), assimilating them with chemical additives and producing a wide variety of foods.  

“Biological” is what Modern Meadow does. Bio-printing. Bio-fabrication to grow artificial meat. Making meat in a more efficient way than a cow. They brew some cells that are ecologically efficient. They take a biopsy from the worlds best cow and make the world’s best piece of meat every time. They adjust the fat content in the meat, get the proportions you want and incubate it. Unfortunately, right now for any company in this space, 3D printing a hamburger can cost a minimum of $100,000. Compare that to McDonalds and this is not going to happen in the next five years. Fifteen to twenty years, who knows… they may find the biological equivalent and next you know it is more efficient as a printer than a cow. I am not a proponent of that philosophy and method. I like cow. I am not convinced you can make cells in the factory setting than what the biological setting can. What they are doing which is a great idea is culturing cells to make large sheets of leather. 

The Food Journal: Your Cornell study mentioned the appeal to the professional culinary profession and fine dining appeal.  How will 3D printing change the face of the art of cooking?

Jeff Lipton: In my vision, there is presentation improvement. You can take someone who has little artistic manual dexterity and they can do fine displays. You can get finer work done than minimum wage or less workers. They can be replaced with a robot and then there is access to the same equipment at home. You can replicate it each and every time. A recipe transfers to an instruction list with a robotic execution.  A chef can put a couple’s name on every slice of wedding cake. 

There are two reactions from professional chefs for 3D printing. If they are looking at it “bottom up”, they reject it. The food is gunk. If they look at it as “top down”, additive value and presentation is interesting to them. The printer can do a finer and more artistic dessert than they could do at hand.  So there is augmentation. 

The Food Journal:  What kind of data can be inputted in terms of nutrition control? 

Jeff Lipton:  Big data. How much have I eaten over the day, how much exercise have I done, and when I go to food print, it tells me how big my pizza should be based on my expenditure of energy. This is a huge uptapped region by big data. Data about your nutritional consumption being a integral part of the food process. If we can make it fast enough at the industrial level then mega food brands can get on board. I did an experiment with Hod. We looked at our Google calendars, and our activities and food consumption. We calculated calories burned in the day and the printer then came up with a deficit and printed it out in the form of a cookie. It printed a different cookie for Hod than it did for me but they looked the same.  So if anyone saw us eating, they couldn’t tell that one of us got more or less calories. 

The Food Journal: Will professional chefs feel threatened that the lines between professional and amateur chef may be blurred?

Jeff Lipton: This isn’t a big enough thing yet. Most food printers are too expensive to buy at home. You can put them in a commercial setting and then there could be competition with other professional chefs. If it gets to the point where everyone has one in there home, chefs may feel threatened.  

The Food Journal: Where will the technology have to go to be food safe according to FDA standards?

Jeff Lipton:  New tech for food safety is not that hard. There already are cartridges of food and sterile food safe printers.  That is not the concern. What is lies in the printing parts to make molds for the food industry; utensils, cups and bowls. No one has that many food safe plastic printers. It is a market waiting to happen; how to produce FDA safe printers that produce FDA safe products for things that touch food rather than for the food directly. A 3D printer is no different than anything else.  Printers need to get up to the FDA standards with food safe parts.

The Food Journal: How soon can 3D printing be a retailer medium?

Jeff Lipton: In the supermarket, I see it working on the bakery end as they will be competing on cake design. Other foods would be more about automated vending machines which may be a value negative. People like hand made. They may push back over mechanized.

The Food Journal: What should farmers or the Ag world in general know about 3D printing?

Jeff Lipton: They may not realize how useful 3D printing is to replace parts around the farm. Jay Leno scans car parts, prints out a copy or makes the mold and makes the metal version and it saves him a lot of costs for his car collection. 3D printing can be useful in the industry of farm repair. You can make your own mold for your tractor part instead of waiting for a part, or if your equipment is too old and there is not a part, you can make one on the spot.