Specialty Food Magazine


Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 41 of 139

F ans of the science fiction TV series "Star Trek" have long dreamed of many of the 24th century "advancements" that appeared in the show's several iterations, but one technology has stood out: the Replicator (or food synthesizer, depending on your series preference). This fictional device would allow the user to choose any meal or beverage and, like magic, it would appear before them, printed out, in a sense—plate, utensils, food, and all. While this tech remains a work of fiction, Lynette Kucsma, CMO and co-founder of Barcelona-based Natural Machines, says, "We haven't quite gotten that far, but we are looking at getting closer." Kucsma is only partly joking about the Replicator being a reality, considering the Natural Machines 3-D Food Printer, branded Foodini, can print out almost any food item imaginable. Although the technology has not yet managed to include plating or to cook the meal while printing, it's safe to say that 3-D printing technology is on a course to change the world as we know it. What Is a 3-D Printer? In layman's terms, most commercial 3-D printers today work this way: A nozzle is heated to melt the material it contains (say, plastic). It then extrudes this melted material onto a flat surface where it immediately hardens like hot glue. The three-dimensional object is built layer by layer with this hardened material. As one might imagine, the most common materials used for 3-D printers are not edible. Plastics, rubbers, alloys, and other building materials are the traditional options, but 3-D food printers work with edible materials in much the same fashion. A simplified way to illustrate this is to imagine an icing bag decorating a cake by extrud- ing the icing from a nozzle onto the cake in a certain design. A 3-D printer takes it one step further by melting the ingredient in the extruder (in this case, the icing bag), which allows for more versatile ingredients than just icing, such as doughs, chocolate, cheese, sugars, and virtually any food items that can reach the right consistency. "Most 3-D printed foods are made from a paste," says Michael Molitch-Hou, lead writer and associate editor for 3dprintingindustry.com, an industry-focused online publication. "And so far, most 3-D food printing experi- ments don't cook the food, but extrude it into fun shapes that are subsequently cooked with the ultimate goal of tailoring these foods specifically to your dietary needs. While some ingredients, such as chocolate or sugar, do not require additional cooking, a printed pizza, for instance, would be printed as three uncooked layers, one layer at a time: dough, sauce, cheese. With sugar-based sweets, the process is akin to making caramel or syrup, where water and sugar are heated to produce a consistency capable of being extruded and sculpted. Many of the 3-D food printers now being developed are limited to certain ingredients, such as chocolate, and the extruders can be filled and re-filled with the ingredients required. Some in development use pre-filled extrud- ers specific to the machine (not unlike the early days of Keurig K-Cups), but a move toward at-home customiza- tion is becoming a trend, as is the case with Natural Machines' Foodini, which allows for any fresh ingredient in a paste-like consistency to be used, including natural and organic items. The Benefits and Possibilities of Food Printing Although the hype surrounding the 3-D printing sector shows no sign of letting up, the introduction of food printing has been a wild card. "The most common question that comes up before people see our Foodini," says Kucsma, "is, why would people want to 3-D print food?" Her answer is not unlike many of the other pioneers shaping this industry: a 3-D printer, no matter the materials being printed, allows for a level of precision never before seen. "With a 3-D printer," Kucsma adds, "you can make it faster and more effi- cient than by hand." To be fair, 3-D printing takes a substantial amount of time, but cooks that prepare foods from scratch may find it to be a valu- FUN FACT Although it has never been widely available to the public, 3-D printing technology has existed for more than 30 years. Chuck Hull, co-founder of the South Carolina–based 3D Systems, first came up with the idea of the 3-D printer in 1983. WINTER 2015 39

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