Food from the 3D printer – what’s possible and what’s not yet

Food from the 3D printer - what's possible and what's not yet

© Photo: promo
Like cloned. Cooked, mashed and printed, the broccoli and roulades land on the plate.

Food can also be printed. And it’s not just NASA that is interested. Who can use the technology and who can help it.

The spray head hovers slowly but purposefully over the white plate. The mouth points downwards, reminiscent of the tip of a ballpoint pen. The spray head is attached to a black block that can move like a robot independently in all directions, horizontally and vertically. Tough chocolate flows from the tip onto the work surface.

At first it looks like the little robot wants to write a simple “M”. Over time, however, the pattern grows into a three-dimensional letter.

In the advertising video from the company Print2Taste, you can watch a 3D food printer at work. The Bavarian start-up launched the printer in 2015 under the name “Procusini”. It can also be used to make objects from pasta dough and marzipan. Print2Taste sells the printers to pastry shops, caterers and hotels.

Until now, 3D printers have been in demand primarily in industry and medicine.

For example in companies who print their spare parts or prototypes themselves, or doctors who try the technology, replicate human bones and organs.

Market is expected to grow to $ 400 million

However, 3D printing could also become more relevant in some areas of the food industry in the future. It is no longer just NASA that wants to print Essen.

Between 2017 and 2024, the global market is expected to grow 50 percent to $ 400 million. This is what the New York market research institute Research Nester predicts. The reason is the increasing demand for individual foods.

Barry Callebaut also wants to meet this wish. The Swiss company is one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world and has recently been offering its customers chocolate from a 3D printer. The first press pictures show artfully curved chocolate pieces.

World’s first chocolate printer farm

What is really impressive is the obviously possible production volume. The company explains at the request of the daily mirror that several thousand pieces can be produced per day. For this purpose, the world’s first chocolate printer farm was set up in the Netherlands. A large number of 3D printers work together there fully automatically to print the chocolate in the form requested by the customer.

The information makes you listen. Until now, the lack of serial production was often a decisive reason for large companies not to rely on 3D printing. Stefanie Sabet knows another. She is the managing director of the Federal Association of the Food Industry (BVE). Last year, BVE, together with the digital association Bitcom, asked some of its members about the digital future of the industry.

Thirty percent were convinced that 3D printing would play an important role in food production in 2030. “For many, however, 3D printing is currently still unattractive,” explains Sabet. Certain foods could not be printed due to their composition and consistency.

Vegan meat from the printer?

Volker Lammers from the German Institute for Food Technology (DIL) wants to change that. The scientist from Quakenbruck has been researching the 3D printing of protein and starch-based foods since 2018. Lammers is cooperating with the Technical University of Munich. The team wants to find out how to process raw materials mechanically or thermally in order to make them printable. In the future, vegan meat could also come from the 3D printer.

There are also startups in the US and Israel that are trying to do that. Lammers is convinced that technology must offer added value that goes beyond special forms. “If 3D printing enables structures in food that cannot be achieved with traditional production methods, technology could become a real alternative,” he says. The scientists from Quakenbruck and Munich have developed their own 3D printer for their research.

The original form of the “Procusini” printer from the start-up Print2Taste was also created as part of a research project. At the Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences, scientists have investigated how you can use 3D printers to make pureed meals in a visually appealing form. They want to help over five million people in Germany who suffer from chewing and swallowing disorders. For those affected, not only the consistency of the food is important, but also the appearance.

As part of the research, the dishes were first prepared normally, then mashed and then brought back to their original shape using the printer. The peas and carrots on the plate looked almost as if they had never been pureed. However, some foods had to be mixed with thickening and gelling agents.

The concept is called smooth food and was previously applied using techniques from molecular cuisine. The use of 3D printers makes it less expensive. The researchers from Freising also hope that the new technology will make further improvements, such as relieving the strain on home workers or nursing staff in hospitals.

“No more exotic”

The research project led by Thomas LOtzbeyer went into its third round last year. Print2Taste is still a cooperation partner, but is now an independent start-up with 10 employees. The founders collected the necessary start-up aid of 30,000 euros via crowdfunding. To date, Print2Taste has received 1.5 million euros in venture capital, also with the help of private investors.

“Within the industry, we are no longer considered to be exotic,” says Helga Gruber. The doctor of biology is a co-founder and responsible for research and development at Print2Taste.

Depending on the version, the “Procusini” costs between 2,000 and 3,000 euros. Users can either fill it with their own pastes or buy the bags from Print2Taste. The 3D printer also includes access to an online platform where customers can either select templates or upload their own 3D models. To date, 400 devices have been sold, says Gruber. The company is facing competition from Spain and the Netherlands.

New opportunities for pastry shops

Experts see great growth opportunities in the confectionery industry. The devices can easily print chocolate and marzipan. Gerhard Schenk runs a pastry shop in Augsburg with his brother. It employs eight people. At the same time, he is President of the German Confederation of Confectioners. “I have been flirting with buying a 3D printer for a long time,” says Schenk. Customers’ demands are increasing because they see the corresponding forms on the Internet. With the printers one can print complex pieces without having to park an employee for many hours.

But he doesn’t want to speak of a trend yet. So far, the devices have been too expensive and there are too few occasions to use them regularly. Currently, 3D printers are only of interest to pastry shops that supply large corporate customers and manufacture many special shapes. Nevertheless, Schenk does not want to rule out anything: “2D printers were also special at the beginning, now they are part of the standard equipment.”

Chocolate print for home

Floris Vlasman is the managing director of a Berlin catering company. In contrast to Gerhard Schenk, he had one a year ago 3D printer bought. In the event industry, it is extremely important to hurry ahead with new technology, “to inspire earlier than its competitors,” he says. Business customers working in the areas of digitalization, innovation and technology are particularly interested in 3D printers. He is also suitable as a marketing tool. Vlasman also says that he would like to use the printer even more often. Financially, the purchase “may not have been immediately worthwhile”.

Print2Taste has meanwhile targeted ordinary consumers. Since mid-2019, the company has been selling a pure chocolate 3D printer for the home. At 298 euros, it costs significantly less than the professional device.

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