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Would you like your food printed in colour or b&w?

Carrot, chocolate, strawberry and cucumber sponge cake. That is an odd recipe I hear you say, well add a group of scientists, a printer, food and intelligence and the result is pleasing: printed food. How is that even possible?

Scientists in the United States of America have been building a 3D food printer. Cornell University’s Computational Synthesis Lab have been working on this project to change the future of food production. The printer uses food “inks” (liquid or melted versions of ingredients) that are contained within a syringe. The machine deposits food inks layer by layer and line by line according to an electronic blueprint. The blueprint uses CAD (computer aided design) software and instructs where materials should be placed.

So why do we need food printers?

The printer makes cooking possible for those who struggle with or find cooking difficult. The technology allows people to tweak and play around with flavours, textures and appearance. It brings fun to cooking. Alongside fun, the production of meals is time-saving. This allows for fast production of specific meals for those in need: hospitals, disasters or the homeless.

However the technology has not been perfected. The raw ingredients each have different materials reacting differently depending on the situation or combination. The project therefore needs more time to understand the properties of materials.

What does this project promise?

The project promises a step closer to invention seen in the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the fictional character Willy Wonka creating marvellous food combinations. The printer allows your imagination to run wild, mixing exotic flavours and create colourful food with exquisite tastes. A food printer would make the unimaginable imaginable. However some people feel the printer could be influential on home cooking and alter family dynamics. Traditional home cooked meals could be a ‘thing of the past’ along with cooking skills and time spent either preparing, cooking or consuming a meal. The printer although being able to tailor an individual’s needs could mean less cohesion and unity around eating. This leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Imagine sending a “home-baked” meal to your partner living abroad via Msn. Facebook messaging a heart cookie to your crush on Valentines day. The industry would also benefit from fast production of meals in places needing or providing care such as hospitals or shelters. The food printer is an innovative idea and personally my taste buds tingle at the thought of such an idea.

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