When I first read about NASA’s $125,000 grant to Systems and Materials Research Corporation to create a 3-D food printer, I was excited, confused, and a little weirded out. A range of thoughts and questions ran through my mind. What would the food be made out of? Would it taste and feel like real food, or would it instead resemble an edible piece of cardboard? What are the benefits for astronauts of printing out food versus unwrapping a package of freeze dried ice cream? Could a food printer benefit people of earth as well as rocket men, or is it just a expensive pet project?
So why does NASA need a food printer? It turns out that normal space food has a limited shelf life. If NASA ever wants to get humans back into space, and attempt long distance space travel, their food needs to last at least 15 years. A 3D food printer uses ingredients (carbs, sugars, proteins, macro and micro nutrients) in powder form. Powder form is moisture-free, allowing the ingredients to last for up to 30 years.
Anjan Contractor, the conceptualizor of the 3D food printer, has visions for the food printer that reach beyond outer space. He believes that the food printer can be used to end world hunger and combat future food shortages.
Contractor’s 3D printer has many components that can lend themselves to fighting hunger on earth. 3D printers can use alternative food sources that humans wouldn’t normally eat, like algae, grass, duckweed, and insects, as ingredients. Using alternative ingredients would increase access to food and cheapen the cost.
Another technological benefit of Contractor’s 3D Printer is that it would allow people to personalize the nutrition in their food. That way, a person can eat food specific to their unique dietary needs.
The type of food Contractor is focusing on now for the grant from NASA is Pizza. Pizza is made in layers, which make it easier for the printer to make. The layers allow the printer to focus on one ingredient at a time.
I am extremely curious to see what a “printed” pizza looks like and whether it can stand up to the real thing. At the moment, the idea that 3D printer that creates food can be the answer to world hunger seems ridiculous, but the same could have been said about most breakthroughs.
If you are as bedazzled and befuddled by the food printer as I am, below are some links that might help you better conceptualizing a food printer. Enjoy!
Suprised Printing Woman via Shutterstock
Sample 3D Food by TNO Research