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The 3D printing of food started almost as soon as the first 3D printing process was commercially released. One of the first uses of 3D printing, in fact, was in creating chocolate goodies. The bold idea has since evolved into other types of food, with a big jump in the printing materials used.

What sets the new technology apart is the ingredients used in the 3D processing. Instead of finished materials like chocolate, sugar, agar-agar or gelatin, the platform uses nano-cellulose fibers to assemble the food. The food manufacturing follows the diet requirements.

From the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, two professors have developed a 3D printing platform for personalized food. The process and platform allows for the printing of specific food items, including gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets. Using edible zero-calorie nano-cellulose fiber, it can also print special diets for athletes, or for specific food requirements and limitations like those for diabetes and celiac disease.

The Hebrew University’s Prof. Ido Braslavsky presented the new 3D platform at the 3D Printing and Beyond: Current and Future Trends conference. Highlights of the conference included new innovations and technologies from Israeli and international researchers and experts from both industry and the academies.

Prof. Braslavsky heads the Inter-Faculty Biotechnology Program at the Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition, under the university’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. He collaborated with Prof. Oded Shoseyov who works under the Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture.

Graphic of a 3D printer and a hamburger

3D Printing Fundamentals

Today’s 3D printers are usually deposition printers. This is an important distinction for food. The 3D printing adds layer upon layer of the same material to form the desired or programmed shape. Called additive manufacturing, it is the most common method used by 3D printers. Newer 3D printing technology uses binding printers, where different materials adhere to one another. For food, this results in a form of edible cement. The process uses the same layer by layer deposit of materials, but it uses different nozzles with different materials.

Using this concept, it is possible for confectioners, chocolatiers, and pastry chefs to create an object which is physically impossible to do by hand. These include objects which look like optical illusions and would be almost impossible to craft to hard. The food extrudes from nozzles and are made from different powdery materials. Lasers and robotic arms are also used to make patterned chocolate, intricate pastry shapes, and sugar sculptures. The 3D Systems ChefJet produces thin layers of crystal from fine-grain sugar creating a wide range of geometric shapes. The Natural Foods Choc Edge 3D printer uses chocolate in syringes to create beautiful patterns and shapes.

One Big Step Further

The above printers are already available on the market. What sets the new technology apart is the ingredients used in the 3D processing. Instead of finished materials like chocolate, sugar, agar-agar or gelatin, the platform uses nano-cellulose fibers to assemble the food. The food manufacturing follows the diet requirements. Using these fibers, it is possible to add and bind proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and to create the food’s texture. The user can cook the food product in several ways while being 3D printed. The 3D printing assembles the food and the user can bake, fry, or grill it separately.

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