The 3D printing of foods – from concept to reality

By Dr Amy Logan, Dr Peter Watkins, Prof. Bhesh BhandariApril 14th, 2022

3D printing is opening up a whole world of new food product opportunities.
3D printed foods on a plate

Vegetable-based 3D printed food prototypes at CSIRO’s food innovation centre

3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing, which involves a computer-controlled process of sequential layering to form a predesigned object. This technology is more commonly used for producing metal and plastic speciality items, however current research to develop suitable food ‘ink’ ingredients has led to the reality of using 3D printing to prepare on-demand foods in kitchens or elsewhere such as in restaurants.

With a global value of around $485.5 million in 2020, the market for 3D printed food products is estimated to grow to around $1 billion by 2025, primarily in the confectionery and bakery space.1

Recent advancements have meant that more complex and multi-ingredient food products can be fabricated using 3D printing with customised colour, shape, flavour, texture and nutritional loading.

The concept of 4D printing is also emerging, where the structure of the 3D printed food can change with time. For example, a flat pasta that will morph into predesigned shapes when rehydrated and exposed to heat,2 providing a novel consumer experience as well as packaging efficiencies for the flat, dry ingredient.

This article is based on our book chapter on the hardware, inks, applications and commercial activities of 3D printing of foods, written for the International Congress on Engineering and Food, ICEF13.

Hardware

Four different types of 3D printing hardware are commonly used for the production of foods, based on the principles of:

  • material extrusion – where the food ink material is in a liquid or powder form and forced to flow through a shaped hole or die under varied temperatures and pressures at a steady rate. This is the most common method of 3D printing
  • material jetting – which uses an array of pneumatic nozzle-jets to produce a layer of the ink material and deposited onto a surface, similar to 2D inkjet printing
  • binder jetting – which is similar to material jetting but uses a liquid binder with a powder base to form the desired product
  • selective laser sintering – where a laser applies high temperatures and fuses the powder ink materials in layers.

Inks and applications

Prototype 3D printed foods on a plate

3D printed food prototypes and printer cartridge

The form (e.g. dried powder or liquid concentrate) and physicochemical properties of the 3D printer inks are important considerations for constructing different food materials, and the user will need to match the ink’s characteristics and 3D design parameters to the specific printer hardware.

In most common extrusion types of 3D printing, a food ink must be able to flow from the print cartridge, yet form a self-supported shape once deposited on the printing platform. As such, much emphasis has recently been placed on understanding the material properties of food inks with or without the addition of thickeners or stabilisers, and how they respond during the 3D printing process.

3D printing allows for the upscaling of low value products (such as vegetable rejects and meat offcuts) and using novel ingredients to construct attractive and nutritious food products. Consumer acceptance needs to be considered in the development of 3D printed foods, especially with novel ink ingredient or approaches. A survey of Australian consumers conducted in 2016 suggested little support for cultured meat and insect-based foods.However, more recent media attention and growth in the number of emerging start-up companies involving cellular protein and insect farming indicates a step-change in consumer acceptance, providing greater social licence for advancements in this space.

It is fascinating that 3D printing makes it possible to control the internal structure of the product to regulate textural attributes and material quantity (calorie intake) per piece of the product. The different patterns and infill levels of 3D printed chocolate, which is not a choice in a conventional chocolate making process, have been reported.5 Barry Callebaut opened its world-first 3D printing studio in 2020 with the brand name of Mona Lisa chocolate.6

Personalised nutrition

The concept of personalised nutrition involves the tailoring of dietary advice and diets specifically to meet an individual’s needs,7 with 3D printing providing one technology that could be used to prepare on-demand foods of customised texture and nutrient loading. Projections indicate significant growth and demand for personalised products, with annual revenues as high as $64 billion by 2040.8 For example, the UK based company Nourished manufactures customised vitamin ‘Nutrition Stacks’ using 3D printing.9

Food printing is particularly suited to niche food applications, for example personalised nutrition and texture modified foods for people with swallowing difficulties, referred to collectively as dysphagia. Around 50-60% of individuals in aged care homes and around 15-22% in the general population are affected by dysphagia.10 To meet the Dysphagia Diet Standardisation guidelines11 for safe food consumption, foods need to be texture modified or presented as thickened liquids, but are often unappetising in appearance,12 taste and texture.

Development of meat-based 3D products meeting the dysphagia quality parameters have been recently reported by the research team at The University of Queensland.13 Food products of defined texture and sensory properties can be freshly prepared using 3D printing and designed to look similar to the real food but easier to swallow and digest.14 Addressing environmental sustainability and human health, two different start-up companies, Redefine Meat15 and NovaMeat16, have been developing plant-based meat analogue systems, or ‘faux meat’, using 3D printing to mimic fibrous meats and seafoods.

No doubt, the development of different food products will continue into the future, along with the creation of new consumer markets and experiences for 3D printed foods.

References

  1. BBC Market Research FOD093A, 2020, https://www.bccresearch.com/market-research/foodand-beverage/3d-food-printing-market-report.html, accessed 28 Oct 2021.
  2. https://3dprinting.com/food/mit-produces-4dshapeshifting-printed-pasta/, accessed 28 Oct 2021.
  3. Watkins, W, Logan, A, Bhandari, B. (2021) Three-dimensional (3D) food printing – an overview in Food Engineering Innovations Across the Supply Chain, (ed) Juliano, P, Knoerzer, K, Sellahewa, J, Nguyen, M, Buckow, R. Academic Press.
  4. Lupton, D, Turner, B. (2018) Food of the Future? Consumer Responses to the Idea of 3D-Printed Meat and Insect-Based Foods. Food and Foodways, 26(4), 269–289.
  5. Mantihal, S, Prakash, S, Bhandari, B. (2019). Textural modification of 3D printed dark chocolate by varying internal infill structure. Food Research International 121: 648-657
  6. https://www.barry-callebaut.com/en/group/media/news-stories/barry-callebaut-opensworlds-first-3d-printing-studio-craft-unseen, accessed 30 Oct 2021
  7. Archer, N, Krause, D, Logan, A. (2017) Personalised food revolution. food australia 69.4: 42-44.
  8. Fitzgerald, M. (2020) “Personalized nutrition could be the next plant-based meat, worth $64 billion by 2040, says UBS”, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/19/personalized-nutrition-couldbe-the-next-plant-based-meat-worth-64-billionby-2040-says-ubs.htmlaccessed 29 Oct 2021.
  9. https://get-nourished.com/, accessed 29 Oct 2021.
  10. Roden, DF, Altman, KW. (2013) Causes of dysphagia among different age groups: a systematic review of the literature. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, 46(6), 965-987.
  11. https://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/SPAweb/Resources_for_the_Public/Modified_Foods_and_Fluids_Terminology/SPAweb/Resources_for_Speech_Pathologists/Professional_Resources/Modified_Foods_and_Fluids_Terminology.aspx?hkey=822fd30c-b7d4-45c3-9071-a20a7b38bb52.
  12. Kouzani, A, Adams, S, Whyte, DJ, Oliver, R, Hemsley, B, Palmer, S. (2017) 3D Printing of Food for People with Swallowing Difficulties. KnE Engineering, 2(1), 23–29.
  13. Dick, A, Bhandari, S Prakash, S. (2022). Printability and textural assessment of modified-texture cooked beef pastes for dysphagia patients. Future Foods 3: 100006.
  14. Hua, WS, Na, L, Dong, ZY. (2018) “GW29-e0057 3D food printing can help elder to digest and swallow foods” in The 29th Great Wall International Congress of Cardiology China Heart Society Beijing Society of Cardiology, 72(16, Supplement), C210.
  15. https://www.redefinemeat.com, accessed 28 Oct 2021.
  16. https://www.novameat.com/, accessed 28 Oct 2021.

The authors

Dr Amy Logan leads the Personalised Fabrication of Smart Food Systems testbed within CSIRO’s AIM Future Science Platform and is Group Leader for Food Quality and Safety, CSIRO. Dr Peter Watkins leads the Food Analysis team for the Food Program, CSIRO.

Professor Bhesh Bhandari leads the food materials science and engineering including 3D printing research at The University of Queensland.

This article was originally published in AIFST’s food australia journal. Republished with permission. It is based on a chapter from the book Food Engineering Innovations Across the Supply Chain, edited by Pablo Juliano, Kai Knoerzer, Jayantha Sellahewa, Minh Nguyen and Roman Buckow, 2021, Academic Press, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

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