3D food printers head for mass production

By the end of the year, 3D food printers will be in people’s homes for the first time, with the first thought to be produced by Natural Machines.

While a few companies have been working on the technology, Natural Machine’s Foodini looks to be the first in an oncoming wave of mass production in 3D food printing.

The Foodini machine is an open capsule model, in which the user places fresh ingredients and then tells the Foodini what to make with them. For example, rather than hand making ravioli from start to finish, you just load the dough and filling into the machine and it will print individual ravioli for you.

3D printed burgers made using a Foodini 3D food printer

3D printed burgers made using a Foodini 3D food printer

The notion behind the machine, and where it fits into average household usage, is to encourage better eating.

According to the Natural Machines website: “Today, too many people eat too much convenience foods, processed foods, packaged foods, or pre-made meals – many with ingredients that are unidentifiable to the common consumer, versus homemade, healthy foods and snacks. But there is the problem of people not having enough time to make homemade foods from scratch.

“Enter Foodini. Foodini is a kitchen appliance that takes on the difficult parts of making food that is hard or time-consuming to make fully by hand. By 3D printing food, you automate some of the assembly or finishing steps of home cooking, thus making it easier to create freshly made meals and snacks.”  

The notion of replacing the hand crafting process of cooking with 3D printing may well seem a strange one, perhaps raising concerns of a reduction of people’s skill and effort. While it is certainly a better option than potentially more suspect ready meals, there is an element to which the idea of machines like the Foodini may detract from the craft of cooking.

However, although it allows those who would not usually be in a position to hand make ravioli to enjoy food they would otherwise not, it may also make it too easy for those who are able to make said food to simply not bother.  

The Foodini 3D food printer. Images courtesy of Natural Machines

The Foodini 3D food printer. Images courtesy of Natural Machines

The worries of excess convenience aside, it is reassuring to see a focus on homemade food and quality eating. And with 3D printing ever developing, a future where we use it to manufacture our meals as well as our homes is perhaps not so far-fetched. As to when you should expect this, it is hard to say.

The Foodini currently sells at $4,000, somewhat above what the average consumer can be expected to spend. Yet if successful, a growing market could see the price steadily come down to the point where, in the future, we may expect every home to utilise 3D printing as a regular part of their cooking.

Natural Machines’ device will be initially released by the end of the year, but the next production batch will not be available until some time in 2017. So if you wish to be a part of the first wave of home 3D food printing, place your order quickly.

Precision nutrition: Our future diets could be tailored to our genetics

A new study has revealed that diet response is highly individualised, with the effects of diet decided as much at the genetic level as in regards to what is being eaten. The study, which was performed using mice, has big implications for both the individual seeking to eat as healthy as they can and for regulatory bodies providing dietary recommendations.

“There is an overgeneralization of health benefits or risks tied to certain diets,” said Dr William Barrington, a researcher from North Carolina State University who conducted this work in the laboratory of Dr David Threadgill at Texas A&M University.

“Our study showed that the impact of the diet is likely dependent on the genetic composition of the individual eating the diet, meaning that different individuals have different optimal diets.”

Image courtesy of William Barrington, North Carolina State University

Image courtesy of William Barrington, North Carolina State University

The scientists used four mouse strains, in order to properly model genetic variation, and fed them food equivalent to today’s Western diet, a traditional Japanese diet, a traditional Mediterranean diet, or a high fat, low carb Atkin’s-like diet.  Some mice also received standard mouse chow as a control point of comparison. The mice were fed like this for six months and while they could eat as much as they wanted, their intake was monitored by the researchers.

Monitoring various health-related responses, the team found that the effects of each diet were highly dependent on the strain of mice. Mice eating the Western diet, for example, generally showed negative health effects, such as obesity and fatty liver disease, but the severity of these effects wildly varied across the different strains. Additionally, one of the strains seemed to be mostly resistant to the negative effects of this diet.

“Given the metabolic and genetic similarity of humans and mice, it is highly likely that the level of diversity of diet response seen in our study will also be observed in humans,” said Barrington. “Since there are different optimal diets for different individuals, this underscores the need for precision nutrition, which would identify optimal dietary patterns for each person.”

food

Given the study’s findings, we may be looking to a future where our diet is individually tailored to us based on certain genetic markers.

Barrington’s findings indicate that our approach to diet so far has been far too heavily generalised and we will in fact be better served by a case to case basis, identifying the genetic indicators that correspond to certain diets and eating accordingly.

While introducing a new layer of difficulty in the specification required, the findings may allow for dietary design that more efficiently combats negative health effects such as obesity.

“We’ve largely viewed diet the same way for the last 100 years – assuming that there is one optimal diet,” said Barrington. “Now that we’ve identified that this is likely not the case, I think that in the future we will be able to identify the genetic factors involved in the varying responses to diet and use those to predict diet response in humans.”