A machine that prints chocolate right in your kitchen may be only three years away, according to a leading expert of food printing technology.
Eventually, says Frits Hoff, head of Maastricht University's FabLab in the Netherlands, we will grow beef from cow stem cells and 3D print T-bone steaks at home.
"In the future we will print meat as it is," he said.
"With new techniques prices will go down and speed will go up."
At the end of this year, his company will release an industrial-size machine that can print large amounts of chocolates non-stop for seven days a week. He predicts this will be followed by household appliance about the size of a microwave and retailing for about $2000.
"A few years ago people didn't know about espresso, but then people really interested in good coffee bought expensive espresso machines for $2000," he said.
"In three years there will be an espresso machine for chocolate."
How it works
Anything that can be pushed through a hollow needle can be 3D printed. The process is similar to a chef pushing cream or custard through a spout to make a fancy design, except the machine repeats this process over and over, and is much more accurate.
So this:Skip Animated Gif
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Can create this:
3D printed chocolate.
3D printed chocolate roses.
Chocolate is ideal for 3D printing because it solidifies at room temperature. Tomatoes are a lot more difficult. "If you mix tomatoes it will flow away and you don't have a product, you only have tomato soup," Frits says. Meat has to be ground up to be 3D printed, which makes it mince, so right now most we can only make hamburgers, not fillets.
But this may change with research into the use of stem cells to grow the tendons and muscle that give a steak its form and texture.
On Tuesday, the 3D Food Printing Conference Asia-Pacific is being held in Melbourne, with support from Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).
The MLA is the research arm of Australia's livestock industry, and it's looking at the potential of using inexpensive, secondary cuts to make "red meat ink" for 3D printing. The cuts would be ground up and then printed, so people with eating difficulties could consume protein rich meals in a more appetising form than puree, mash and soup.
3D printed burger patties.
The world's first test-tube-grown beef burger in 2013.
Reuters: David Parry/Pool
Personalised cake decorations
In 2013, a Spanish company crowdfunded the Foodini - it caused a stir and was fun to watch but, contrary to hopes, the food didn't just materialise. You still had to cut, measure and mix the ingredients before printing. Then you had to cook it. There have been other designs, but none have gone mainstream. The technology has a reputation for gimmickry without practical value.
"If you can bake bread in large amounts then 3D food printing at the moment is not fast enough, so it's stupid to do that," Frits says.
"But other things are really nice to do with a 3D food printer."
Frits sees potential in novelty items like personalised decorations for cakes.
"Next year you will see more and more 3D printers in bakeries of supermarkets. People can make their own designs of topping of cakes," Frits said.
"We did a pilot in a supermarket in the Netherlands. Two hundred clients a day made their own designs and sent it to the printer and two minutes later it was ready."