What The Hell Is 3-D Food Printing? What's Its Future In India?
Image Credit: Materialdistrict.com

3D printing refers to the process of depositing, joining, or solidifying material under computer control while materials such as plastics, liquids, or powder grains are added together typically layer by layer to form a three-dimensional object using CAD or a 3D model.3D printing is also known as "additive manufacturing." Initially considered feasible only for the production of functional or aesthetic prototypes, today 3D printing has become an essential part of industrial manufacturing. 3D printing's precision, repeatability, and material range have endeared it to many industries. Its ability to produce complex geometric shapes has made the production of certain objects that would've been impossible or extremely difficult for human hands or CNC techniques easy.

With applications in medicine, health, archeology, education, and industries like firearms, aviation, automotive, fashion, and food, 3D printing has really caught on in the last decade. 3D printing has some advantages like design flexibility, on-demand printing, quick prototyping, strength with low weight, waste reduction, easy accessibility, value for money, and low environmental impact. However, 3D printing has a few disadvantages as well, like limited product size, limited types of workable materials, the inability to effectively support large production volumes, design inaccuracies, copyright problems, a reduction in manufacturing jobs for humans, and the delamination of fused layers in certain orientations or stresses.

3D food printing, Image Source: Pinterest

3D food printing involves manufacturing food products in a layer-by-layer manner by depositing printing material held in food-grade syringes through food-grade nozzles. 3D food printers have recipes loaded on them and also allow users to remotely design food on their phones, computers, and certain IOT devices. While initially 3D food printing could only produce chocolate, cookie dough, cheese, and sugar sculptures, today pasta, mock meat, and meals with custom nutrition can be made. These days, 3D food printing restaurants produce gourmet foods that allow chefs to showcase their culinary expertise and enhance the aesthetics of the food in question.

3D food printing has a few advantages:

 1.    Diet personalization and nutrient proportioning Nutrient consumption according to an individual’s dietary requirements has been linked to disease prevention. 3D food printing can do just that by regulating individual nutrients' proportions in a given dish. 3D food printing has also been found to be beneficial in the nutrition of the elderly, who are unable to swallow certain foods and require a softer palate. Usually, the appearance of certain foods discourages the elderly from consuming the necessary nutrients. In such cases, 3D food printing can help with the aesthetic aspects of food.

2.    Bioprinting of meats It is a known fact that livestock farming significantly contributes to water pollution, desertification, deforestation, and land degradation. Bioprinting meat is an excellent alternative to livestock farming. Myosatellite cells are extracted from animals, and then growth serum is added to multiply cells that may later be used to bioprint meat.

3.    Culinary creativity. Food aesthetics is a major topic in the food industry. 3D food printing can assist professional chefs and home cooks to achieve excellent food aesthetics, which would've been possible before only with strenuous manual work. Brand logos, text, and signatures may be printed on foods.

4.    Food waste reduction Food waste during processing, consumption, and distribution can be easily reduced by 3D food printing. Seafood byproducts, off cuts of meat, and misshapen fruits and vegetables may be used to 3D print certain foods, thus limiting food waste.

5.    Ease of reproduction As most 3D-printed food is produced according to a measured recipe that is saved on servers, it can be easily shared with other users for recreation.

The disadvantages of 3D food printing are: 

1.    Increased energy consumption. It has been reported that 3D food printing requires 50 to 100 times more energy to produce food than traditional methods.

2.    Expensive equipment. 3D-food printers and their parts are significantly more expensive than their conventional counterparts.

3.    Structural damage to food. 3D-printed food is susceptible to easy structural damage as most designs produced by 3D food printing are delicate and intricate.

4.    Counterfeiting. If the product schematic or recipe is available to everybody, then it is easy for unscrupulous individuals and entities to counterfeit the original dishes, thus robbing the creators of credit and possibly business.

5.    Scalability for large-scale production 3D food printing is a time-intensive process. This can be a serious hindrance to the business scalability of a certain recipe.

6.    Pre-cooked ingredients. As 3D food printers can't heat or cook food, ingredients need to be pre-cooked. This can be a time-consuming endeavor. 

Worldwide, 3D food printing is still in its infancy, with research being carried out to make it more useful to average people by supporting more recipes and ingredients. It's no different in India. The Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology (IIFPT), under the Union Ministry of Food Processing Industries in Thanjavur, is working to make 3D food printing applicable and affordable to the Indian market. IIFPT has developed a 3D food printer called CARK (Controlled Additive Manufacturing Robotic Kit), in which printing has been optimized for some Indian dishes. They're currently working on the software to be able to make a 3D-printed snack. They wish to scale this to make it feasible for industrialized food production.

 With the demand for customized and personalized foods set to rise in the future, 3D food printing will only become more prevalent. Presently, 3D food printing is applicable predominantly to chocolates, mousses, and sauces. Further research is ongoing to make it possible to produce more complex foods and dishes. Who knows how the future will pan out? Maybe the character Lilu in Luc Besson's movie "The Fifth Element" who cooks roast chicken using some tablets in a special machine might just come true in the future.