3-D Printed Food Is a Thing...But Do You Want to Eat It?

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It's called Foodini. Rhymes with Houdini. As if it might, at some point, perform some feat of escape artistry.

It's just a box, though, sort of like a microwave with a computer screen on the front. Capsules containing blended food are loaded into the machine, and it's programmed to squirt out the food mush into geometric shapes and patterns. If the food then needs to be cooked, you cook it.

But the point of Foodini is to cut out the prep time. You don't have sprinkle flour all over a surface to roll out pizza dough. You don't have to shape cookies. You don't have to cut and fill ravioli. Foodini does that for you.

If it sounds a little like something out of The Jetsons, that's not such a stretch.

The makers of Foodini emphasize that it's a healthy option, though. There are no space-age, super-processed gels and preservative-laden packets of goop. It's all fresh, real food that you blend in your own kitchen and load into Foodini. Yes, the machine eliminates the need for shaping and assembling certain things, but we're not yet to the point where we can simply push a button and have food appear before us.

Foodini recently ended an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign (the company was about $20,000 short at the end of its allotted fundraising window), but it's not the only product out there using technology to produce food.

Chocolate and sugar lend themselves well to 3D printing, as British company ChocEdge has proven with its printers that create intricate designs out of chocolate. What isn't as clear is what the company intends for people to do after they print the chocolate. Let it harden and then...just...eat it?

Sugar can be printed into much more interesting shapes, but again, the question is why? Do we really need colorful, three-dimensional sugar cubes? The company 3D Systems makes a series of printers called ChefJet, which are intended to eventually make sugar sculptures like what one might find on top of a wedding cake. Currently, the color sugar printer has an estimated retail value of $10,000. That's a lot for a pink sugar cube.

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NASA recently awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract to Systems and Materials Research Consultancy in Austin to explore the feasibility of printing food in space. Apparently astronauts are weary of freeze-dried ice cream. In an article on NASA's website, the space agency writes "NASA recognizes in-space and additive manufacturing offers the potential for new mission opportunities, whether "printing" food, tools or entire spacecraft." They say they're looking for ways to increase the shelf life of space food, but it's not explained how printing would help that, as the "food products" that would need to be loaded into the printer don't last any longer than what's currently available.

In spite of the fact that it didn't make its Kickstarter goal, Foodini actually seems to be one of the most promising machines out there for 3D food printing. Who knows when it will actually be on the market or if, when it does, people will actually choose it over rolling out crackers and making pizzas the old-fashioned way.

I don't know about you, but I like getting my hands dirty. And something about food paste just doesn't make my stomach grumble in anticipation. Go figure.

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