3D food printers, useful allies for allergies and intolerances
Nereida Carrillo

3D printers are starting to be used in very diverse spheres. These machines, as well as being used to print components in the industrial sector, manufacture prostheses for the medical sector, or produce various decorative figures, are now starting to be used in the kitchen. For the moment, it is in the kitchens of large restaurants and catering services; however, in the near future, they aim to take their place between the toaster and the coffee maker and become like any other kitchen appliance.

"With this new tool you can design elements, volumes and textures to add a new twist to the different offerings and dishes produced by great restaurateurs", claims the nutritionist lex Vidal, UOC Course Instructor at the Faculty of Health Sciences. 3D food printing is now a reality, although, as Vidal points out, it is still a very new technology. However, the future is promising. In a study conducted in October, Gartner Consulting forecast that 455,000 3D printers would be sold in 2016, a figure which by 2020, according to the consultancy’s calculations, will rise to more than 6.7 million units. Food printers are part of the overall boom in this technology.

Simpler gluten-free menus

Although still not widely used among final consumers, Vidal sees the advantages in the case of food allergies and intolerances. "When something has to be strictly controlled, for example a food allergy or an intolerance to gluten, it could be useful. It could help avoid certain nutrients", the nutritionist and UOC professor says. Hence, these devices could be useful allies in cases such as coeliac disease or other problems with certain foods.

Several companies have shown an interest in 3D food printers. One of them is Natural Machines, an emerging company based in Barcelona which markets the Foodini. This device works with capsules and prints a wide range of foods, both sweet and savoury. Outside Spain, other companies have also started working with this technology, such as 3D Systems, which has designed the Chefjet and the Chefjet Pro and has promoted the 3D Culinary Lab to stimulate food innovation. It is also worth mentioning the company ORD Solutions, which has promoted the RoVaPaste Hybrid Food 3D Printer or the company Systems and Materials Research, which is preparing a model to provide astronauts with healthy nourishment.

Lowering the price and adding a cooking function

Vidal regrets that although it may be useful for certain groups of people, at the moment this technology "is not accessible to everyone". One of the reasons they are not widely used is the price, which often exceeds 1,000 euros. For this reason, they are principally used in the restaurant trade and in innovative and top-level establishments. The nutritionist and UOC professor points out that while they could become a kitchen appliance like any other, as food processors are, certain differences exist. "You can work in great detail and use separate ingredients. It could be useful for making things you could not achieve with other tools".

Most 3D food printers work in a similar way to a piping bag. They add layer upon layer of food. They are most commonly used for creamy ingredients, not hard ones, such as chocolate, cream cheese, pasta, ice cream, jam, mustard or peanut butter; it is still not possible to print all types of ingredients. This is a challenge still facing the industry, along with adding a cooking function, given that the majority of devices do not cook, so dishes need to be finished in the oven, frying pan or saucepan.

To print a pizza or a cake, you need to add the raw ingredients to the machine, programme it and wait for it to prepare the dish, a process which could take five minutes or as much as twenty or thirty, depending on the recipe and the difficulty. 3D printers are often used successfully in patisserie. Vidal also underlines the advantages of such devices for patisserie professionals. "Patisserie is always very precise", the nutritionist and UOC professor explains. "For this, I can see it makes sense. However, printing supper, I just don't see it".


lex Vidal

Course Instructor at the Faculty of Health Sciences and UOC nutritionist

Expert in: nutrition.

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