When can you buy a 3D food printer? Soon, expert reveals

Interesting Engineering's podcast series "Lexicon," featuring Dr. Jonathan Blutinger, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, goes beyond the technicalities of 3D-printed food.
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Left: Laser baking of dough using a blue diode laser. Right: 3D printing food
Left: Laser baking of dough using a blue diode laser. Right: 3D printing food

Creative Machines Lab 

The first episode of Interesting Engineering's podcast series Lexicon featured Dr. Jonathan Blutinger, a postdoctoral researcher in the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University, where he tinkers with digital cooking techniques using food printers and lasers. Blutinger is part of the team that has experimented with meats, vegetables, and sweets, made a seven-ingredient slice of cheesecake, and printed chicken samples, which were then cooked by lasers. 

Blutinger is no stranger to our IE audience. In August 2022, he was our primary source for our story on the customization of 3D-printed food. In November 2022, IE organized a Reddit Ask Me Anything with Blutinger, which was quite a fascinating and revelatory session. 

This time too, Blutinger delved into various aspects of 3D printing food with our host Mike Brown, Editor-in-Chief of IE

When can you buy a 3D food printer? Soon, expert reveals
3D printed food at the Creative Machines Lab.

Want to find out more about the Creative Machines Lab's 3D printer and other developments? Stay up to date with the latest advancements in science and technology by subscribing to Lexicon, the new podcast from Interesting Engineering.

What does the lab do?

Whenever the Creative Machines Lab wants to work with/print a new ingredient, they purchase raw materials from a grocery store. And if the ingredients are not in paste form, which is the ideal texture and rheology for printing, then the team will process them and load them onto the machine for printing.

Getting various ingredients into a uniform, the consistent format isn't easy. Currently, the team is trying to combine as many ingredients as they can and make their software robust to make it work for anything.

What could this mean for the general consumer?

When a machine has total control over the ingredients, it begins to understand nutrient profiles and what it's making for the general consumer. It can then predict the nutrient the customer lacks and create and optimize different foods accordingly. "It's like having a personal chef that starts to learn your eating habits. And it can start recommending things for you. Right now, it's not at that point. But it's not inconceivable to think about it getting to that point once you start feeding all the data into it. And that's where I think it gets really interesting," said Blutinger.

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Making the 3D printer more commonplace

3D-printed food might sound rather inaccessible, but the truth is much different. In our podcast, Blutinger mentioned how all of us had been acquainted with 3D-printed food, most of it being subconscious. "3d printed food is something you and probably everybody else has probably come into contact with daily. When we talk about printing, what we're talking about is a machine that can carefully deposit ingredients in a controlled manner. Whether you're putting frosting on a cherry on a cake, or you know, mustard or ketchup on a burger or hot dog - That is a form of printing," he said.

Naturally, this would be familiar to people once they got hold of one of these printing devices at home, correct?

"The hope is to make this more of a commonplace thing, almost like a kitchen appliance. What we're really doing is trying to see all the different types of ingredients we can actually print with those sweets and vegetables and make it as relatable as it can be to a human chef, but we call it a digital chef," Blutinger said on the podcast.

When can you buy one?

Turns out you could buy one tomorrow. But the real question is the use case scenario. Not to mention the cost. According to Blutinger, the machine is somewhere along the lines of a couple of $1,000s. But this technology is only going to get better, and then "probably in about ten years, you can more comfortably buy one on Amazon. And hopefully, by then, we'll have a food repository and ingredients you can actually download, and it'll be more usable for you," Blutinger added.

Want to find out more about the Creative Machines Lab's 3D printer and other developments? Stay up to date with the latest advancements in science and technology by subscribing to Lexicon, the new podcast from Interesting Engineering.