How to Print a Pizza: The Lowdown on 3D Food Printing

16th Jul 2021
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Back in 1946, the microwave changed kitchens across the world. Being able to heat, defrost and even cook food in seconds, transformed what we ate, when we ate it and how we ate it.

And we’re about to encounter a similar life-changing phenomenon…

Say hello to the 3D food printer.

Although it’s not a common concept and we’re not able to install one in our own kitchens just yet, 3D food printing is a real thing. And, like the humble microwave, it’s set to become a staple in all our kitchens within the next decade or so.

But what are 3D food printers, how do they work, and do we really want a printer in our kitchen?!

What is 3D food printing?

3D food printers are basically a food factory shrunk down to the size of a box that sits on your counter … or a mini manufacturing plant in your kitchen” – Tech Republic

3D printing is a popular technique used to produce three-dimensional objects that require a high level of accuracy and efficiency. Many industries rely on 3D printers for the mass manufacture of things like car parts, packaging, construction materials and engine components.

And now, the food industry is starting to utilise 3D printers to produce food: It’s now possible to prepare an entire meal through an automated additive process. 

How do 3D food printers work? 

3D printing is the process of creating three-dimensional solid objects from digital files. Objects are usually created layer by layer.” – Interesting Engineering

3D food printers work in a similar way to regular 3D printers. A thick, tacky raw material is fed through a nozzle onto a surface to create a three-dimensional object. The nozzle has been programmed to move about to build the required shape, one layer at a time.

A designer or chef will first design what he or she wants using a software program; the design is then printed out by the machine.” – Lavu

It doesn’t work for all types of food though…

Because the food being printed has to pass through a printer nozzle, it needs to be in a paste, puree or mousse-like form. Plus, if it’s to hold its shape during the process, it also needs to contain the right level of viscosity. So you couldn’t print off a steak, for instance.

Emulsified ingredients such as these work well though:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Dough
  • Batter
  • Wheat and grains
  • Sauces
  • Dairy products
  • Chocolate

For example, pizza was one of the first foods to be made using a 3D printer.

How to print a pizza

First, the pizza measurements are entered into the 3D printer. The dough is then fed through the nozzle to create the pizza base. Once the base is done, the dough nozzle is automatically replaced by one that contains the tomato sauce. The machine then prints the tomato sauce onto the dough.

The cheese would need to be added by a human (as pureed cheese on a pizza just wouldn’t work), who would then also need to whack it into the oven, but the heavy lifting can all be done by the 3D printer!

This is a simple example to show you how 3D food printing works, but let’s look at some other ways 3D food printing is currently being used… 

How is 3D printing used in food manufacturing?

Although 3D food printing isn’t quite ready for the likes of me and you to use in our standard kitchens, 3D food printers are being used out in the industry. Places like fine dining restaurants, molecular kitchens, patisseries and chocolatiers are using them to create beautifully intricate shapes and designs that would normally take hours to create by hand.

And, more recently, 3D printers are being used to create plant-based meat products in a bid to mimic the texture of meat. 

What are the benefits of using a 3D food printer?

The thought of printing out your food out might seem a little ‘tasteless’ right now (it kind of makes me think of processed, packaged food), but there are some surprisingly obvious benefits to 3D food printing.

3D food printing benefit #1: You can guarantee consistency 

Because food is produced by a programmed machine, it removes the potential for error. Each part of the printing process is monitored so mistakes can be detected and fixed in real-time, ensuring a consistently flawless product at the end.  

3D food printing benefit #2: You can reduce food waste

Be honest, when you’re doing your weekly food shop do you bypass the ugly, misshaped, knobbly carrot for a classically smooth one?

Most of us have an aversion to ‘ugly’ food. We don’t want to eat stuff that looks ‘wrong’. 3D food printing has the potential to change this. It can make food look more attractive and, therefore, reduce the amount of food we waste. For example, if you have kids who hate spinach and tend to leave it uneaten on their plates, 3D food printing can turn plain old spinach leaves into spinach dinosaurs! And, I’m sure you can agree, spinach dinosaurs are far more attractive and tempting to eat.

3D food printing benefit #3: You can cater to special dietary requirements

Because you can choose the ingredients to put into your 3D food printer, you can easily cater to any food diet, allergy or intolerance. This is great for responding to food trends like veganism, gluten-free and dairy intolerances but it’s even better for hospitals. They can use 3D food printers to produce individual meals that perfectly fit their patient’s nutritional needs and help their recovery.

3D food printing benefit #4: You can learn more about the nutritional value of food

The beauty of smart technology is that you can connect all your devices together. This means you’ll be able to connect your 3D food printer to your fitness app so you can track the nutritional value of the food you produce and use it to create customized meals to help you meet your dietary goals.

3D food printing benefit #5: You can create new innovative food products 

As we discovered earlier, food manufacturers have now started to use 3D food printers to create meat products using plant-based ingredients. This type of experimentation will open up the food market and allow for the development of a whole range of new and exciting food products.

The future of 3D food printing

As we’ve seen, gourmet food outlets and fancy bakeries are already using 3D food printers to delight their customers with their intricate products. And there are plenty of food-tech companies using 3D printing techniques to create plant-based meat textures, customisable food experiences, and nutritionally bespoke food items.

But 3D printing is still a relatively new idea to the food industry. And, due to limitations such as the type of ingredients you can use, the fact that it still requires human input and the lack of understanding surrounding such a novel concept, the technology isn’t ready for us to install into our own kitchens.

Any project that implies a behavioural change, especially in relation to food, takes a lot of time to be accepted and implemented,”Tech Republic

To get 3D food printers into our kitchens at home, the concept needs further research and development. This is where R&D tax specialists, such as Myriad Associates, come in...

How Myriad Associates can help with the development of 3D food printing

Myriad Associates is a specialist R&D tax consultancy that helps clients secure R&D tax credits and grants to fund the development of innovative, ground-breaking projects.

R&D tax incentives come with plenty of restrictions, rules and regulations. So, if you have clients in the food industry who are looking to push the boundaries of food development with 3D food printing, get in touch and we can help them secure the R&D funding they need to make it a reality.

Visit the website, contact us on 0207 118 6045 or drop us a message here.