3D Food Printing: Digital Chef Who Knows Exactly What You Need

Nowadays, it’s possible to print yourself a chicken and cook it with lasers.
Researchers at the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University, pioneers in this field, have been working on sophisticated methods that allow for at-home printing of completely edible food.
But it’s not that simple, is it?
Let’s see how this technology works and what are the downsides of it.

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3d food printing

Illustration: Milica Mijajlovic

How can you print food? 

So, how is it even possible to print out food? 

Basically, a 3D food printer is a machine that carefully deposits ingredients in a controlled manner or, in a nutshell, that’s an automated additive process. Actually, it somewhat looks as if you’re putting mustard on a hot dog. 

Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University has been experimenting with digital cooking techniques for quite some time, and it’s fascinating how much they’ve progressed. 

In other words, for any ingredient they want to print, first they need to purchase raw materials from the grocery store. Ideally, those materials are in paste form; otherwise, they would need to process it first. 

This means that everything that can be turned into at least a semi-liquid state could theoretically be 3D printed. This goes for a vast majority of vegetables, cheeses, sweets, and doughs. 

Eventually, as the technology moves forward, consumers will be able to download ingredients from a rich food depository and prepare a meal for themselves without any cooking skills required. 


It’s very interesting to think about what would happen if you bring software and robotics into something as basic as cooking. The moment you unleash this computer control, this programmable way of cooking, we’ll have access to a new, if you like, food space. We’ll see innovation in food as we’ve never seen before.

Professor of Mechanical Engineering Hod Lipson 

It’s important to point out that 3D printers do not cook food (at least, not yet). They architect the shape and design, but the outcome should then be placed into the oven. 

What does it mean for consumers? 

Food printing allows better control over the nutrients you’re adding, meaning that it could be adjusted to the exact consumer rather than buying processed foods at the supermarket that are made with the “one-size-fits-all” standard. 

The technology is not yet at a stage where a 3D printer can act as your personal chef and recommend nutrients that you may need, according to the eating habits he has learned about. But researchers are definitely working on this feature and that’s the future plan of development. 

In other words, you’ll be able to control the exact amount of nutrients, vitamins, calories per meal… 

Now, just imagine what chefs would be capable of with this tool in their hands. 

It’s definitely something beyond imaginable but the truth is – we’re not that far from it. 

Apart from helping with food scarcity problems and eliminating malnutrition, one huge advantage of 3D food printing is its positive effect on climate change. Namely, it reduces the human footprint on the planet by requiring drastically fewer resources, uses more sustainable options, including the materials that would otherwise be thrown away. 

The best part is, the 3D food printer won’t be as inaccessible as it may seem at first. From what we know so far, this machine will cost up to a couple of thousand dollars, meaning that some luxury restaurants will be able to purchase it. And, over time, who knows, maybe we’ll have these devices in our homes just like it happened with air fryers. 

Where we’ll probably see the earliest adoption are wedding cake decorations but, either way, it’s still too early to talk about broader adoption among cooking professionals and consumers. 

Moreover, vegans will be thrilled to hear that 3D food printers can be used for plant-based meat substitutes. 

Are there 3D food printers on the market? 
There have been important milestones in experimenting with 3D food printing made by food startups. Some of them are even already applied in some of the fanciest Michelin-star restaurants and bakeries. The most acknowledged competitors in the field are probably byFlow and mycusini but keep in mind that traditional 3D printing companies are tackling this niche as well. A good share of these efforts is motivated by NASA’s initiative to encourage revolutionary solutions to feed astronauts in space.

And finally, 3D printed food is completely safe to consume. 

What are the disadvantages of this technology?   

You know what they say – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

The truth is, there are some downsides to this technology that have come to researchers’ attention so far. 

These are the most common ones: 

  1. Time-consuming – This goes for 3D printing in general, so it doesn’t come as a surprise knowing that 3D food printing will take up a significant amount of your time, much longer than traditional cooking. 
  2. Process complexity – Most ingredients don’t come in paste form, which means they require precooking and processing. 
  3. Limited possibilities – 3D food printers don’t come with endless possibilities, which means you’ll have to learn how to enjoy the same meals over and over again. 

One argument that frequently turns up whenever 3D food printing is mentioned is that consumers could easily get tired of eating only this type of food. Think of it as a kid getting a new toy – sure, it’s all fun and games in the beginning, but if it’s way too complex, the kid will just leave it in the corner for the rest of the time and move on to something more convenient. 

In addition, some papers go as far as to claim that 3D food printing can cause food poisoning or food allergies, but more research is needed to confirm this, especially the changes that 3D food can make in the human body in the long run. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.