Can you imagine that during a Christmas dinner you eat a turkey printed on a 3D printer? Or do you chew the same pizza at dinner?
It's not so incredible as it might seem at first glance. Although the news mostly praised the ability of 3D printers to produce non-food items, they are increasingly used to create culinary masterpieces.
How 3D printers work
During the production of food, 3D printers issue a soft liquid edible substance through the nozzles, which create a new product layer by layer, and are sent using a computer program. So you can create everything - from sweets and confectionery to cookies, pancakes, pasta, pizza and salty snacks.
Reviews in the media
News roundups and industry blogs respond very positively to what 3D printing from products can offer. They covered events such as the awarding of the Michelin star to chefs who experimented with 3D printers in restaurants in Europe.
The media also reported on the potential of 3D printing to meet the needs of astronauts, air passengers and people in emergency situations.
In European nursing homes, 3D-printed food with a gelatinous texture is offered for those who have problems with chewing and swallowing solid foods. Developers of food 3D-printers claim that people will soon be able to have these devices in their kitchens, and they will help them prepare delicious and healthy products at home. A 3D food printer was demonstrated in the US in 2014 at the Consumer Electronics Show.
Alternative sources of protein
But that's not all. There is also a radical idea to use insects and laboratory-grown meat to prepare 3D-printed food as a sustainable alternative to traditional sources of protein.
Representatives of the Australian livestock sector have also recently announced that they are looking for ways to use 3D printing to produce new meat products in order to maximize the benefit of animal carcasses.
Thus, there is nothing unusual in the Christmas dinner from 3D-printed dishes of red meat and poultry, as well as in edible products from fruit or vegetable puree, sugar or chocolate.
Do you want to try?
What do you think about 3D-printed food? Would you like to try it or invite family members and guests? Despite the enthusiasm of manufacturers and investments in research and development, some scientists actually asked these questions to consumers.
To study these issues, a study was conducted involving 30 Australians who formed an online focus group. The results indicate some interesting complications in the way that many people perceive 3D-printed products, and that may prompt them to try some of them.
View Poll Results
First of all, it was found that none of the participants heard about the use of 3D technology for food production. Since 3D printing technologies are generally associated with inedible items made from materials such as plastic, gypsum or metal, it was difficult for participants to understand how they could work with food.
Initially, they were suspicious of the fact that this technology can be used for cooking, and could not imagine what types of food can be produced. This method of processing food was considered to be very unnatural. Some respondents suggested that as a result, food would somehow "resemble plastic," and, consequently, would be inedible.
In addition, the participants were much more positive about the idea of carrots, macaroni, pizza, chocolate, as well as dishes with chicken and vegetables (from "real" purees printed on a 3D printer) than sugar, caramel, meat and products made from food waste And alternative sources of nutrition, such as algae and insects.
The influence of cultural ideas about food
Cultural notions of what substances are considered tasty and appropriate for eating were central to the participants' responses. While substances such as insects and algae, consistent with consumer standards for natural ingredients, almost all participants considered these products disgusting.
They could not imagine how they could be eaten or offered to others. These materials were classified as inedible according to the cultural norms of the participants, regardless of how they are prepared or processed. Thus, the attitude of participants in such food was influenced not by the fact that it was printed by itself, but from what ingredients it was made.
Those participants who had ethical concerns about meat grown in the usual way liked the idea of 3D printed meat products. But most participants believe that the process will resemble science fiction, especially if it is associated with the use of laboratory-cultivated meat. This ingredient is considered "unnatural".
Safety and benefits of printed products
The fact that many survey participants knew nothing about the 3D printing process allowed them to back up their reservations about the safety of using food materials that otherwise would have been thrown away in the form of waste. They were sure that there was a risk of contamination of food.
For many participants, the usefulness of the products was also an important factor. They had no objection to printed caramel, pizza or chocolate as potentially edible products. But participants expressed concern that such products, given their ingredients and the way they are cooked, are fast food.
Advice to manufacturers
So, if these results can be generalized and extended to wider segments of the population, it seems that many people are interested in new food. They will use them if they can be sure of their taste and health safety, and also if they understand how these products are processed and what they are made of.
But the study shows that manufacturers who want to promote 3D-printed food may have some problems. First of all, they may need to acquaint the public with how this process works, and convince consumers that it is safe.
Also, manufacturers must emphasize that 3D printed food is delicious, even if it looks unusual or made from ingredients that are not considered edible by cultural standards. Only then can consumers use 3D-printed food, such as turkey or pizza, for dinner.