by Rod D. Martin
January 30, 2015

Aside from creating decorative confections of chocolate and sugar, 3D printing offers possibilities to help feed everyone exactly to taste and need. Printing food still has far to go to compete with the swiftness of a Star Trek replicator, but the innovations  reported by Matt McFarland in The Washington Post could improve life’s daily needs beyond the imaginations of sci-fi:

Food that’s easy to swallow, but looks good

For senior citizens with chewing or swallowing problems, they’re often forced to eat foods in puree form.

“Those blobs of puree that they get on a plate don’t look very appetizing and as a result these people which already have problems eating don’t eat enough because it doesn’t look very attractive,” said Kjeld van Bommel, a research scientist at the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research. “They get malnourished in certain cases, which then leads to all sorts of medical conditions.”

Van Bommel and other researchers have begun to take carrots, peas and broccoli, mash them up and then 3-D print them. Then they’re softer, but hold their shape due to a gelling agent. The 3-D-printed vegetables are currently being served at retirement homes in Germany.

Customized nutrition

Currently there’s a focus on form, color and flavor, but the exactness 3-D printing allows could deliver exact dosages of vitamins or drugs.

“We can see a time when you might be wearing technology that would be sensing what your body needs at any given time, whether you’re an athlete or whether you have a medical condition or whether you’re elderly,” (Liz von Hasseln, the creative director of the Sugar Lab at 3D Systems) said. “And that could theoretically link up to your printer at home and when you get home a specialized meal could be waiting for you that provides exactly what your body needs.”

“You’ll be able to say when I wake up in the morning I want the printer to print my breakfast and I want it to have the right amount of trans fats, whatever we need,” said Hod Lipson, the director of Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab. “This is where software meets cooking and the possibilities are really limitless.”

But the question remains: can they print a better potato chip?