Mar 13, 2016 | By Alec

Food 3D printing has never been hotter. Chocolate is already easily 3D printable, and various research projects are working on upgrading their capacity to 3D print full meals for the elderly. In fact, Foodjet recently announced to be working on exactly that. But according to Chloé Rutzerveld, food designer and the founder of sustainable food 3D printing concept Edible Growth, food 3D printing has far more potential and needs to drastically change its focus.

As you might recall, Rutzerveld’s Edible Growth project has been working hard to turn food 3D printing upside down. Rather than asking herself, 'what food can be 3D printed with available technology?', her starting point was to seek entirely natural, healthy, nutritious foods that provide everything (or most) of what the body needs. Can this be created using additive manufacturing without being absolutely artificial or unnatural and, crucially, be tasty and inviting as well?

Essentially, she proved that it is definitely capable by 3D printing sustainable elements that together grow into edible products. By combining edible seeds, yeast, soil and mushrooms, for instance, she exploited natural growth to increase the calorific content of her products and create a sustainable and efficient food production system. “The concept of Edible Growth shows that we can create healthy, natural and sustainable food when combining science – design – technology and food. People always think that food coming from the lab, or from factories is unnatural, not tasteful and unhealthy, which does not have to be the case!” she told us at the time. “[I’m working] to reduce the entire food chain, to reduce food waste and start feeding people instead of filling people. In theory these novelty foods will be even more natural, fresh, sustainable, animal-friendly, tasty and exiting than the food we know today. Edible Growth addresses current food trends, shortens supply chains and increases the eating experience.”

Since completing that initial concept, Rutzerveld has become a vocal supporter of sustainable food production and works as a food designer. Since 2015, she is also a fellow at Next Nature, gave a critically acclaimed TEDx talk in Calgary in 2015 and won the Reciprocity Euregio award 2015. Just last month, the Dutch Financial Daily included her in the top 50 young talented entrepreneurs list.

And as she just argued in an interview with Dutch reporters, the currently prevailing food 3D printing concept only has one realistic purpose. “It is illogical to break down food and use another machine to build it up again in layers, rather than the traditional molds. This new method is only useful when serving the elderly who have trouble consuming food, but then only when combined with customized additions of minerals and vitamins,” she tells RTL news. “It will save a lot of time and money if a machine takes care of this, instead of a nurse. But surely it doesn’t have to be pushed through a syringe?”

But the bigger problem, she says, is that the current food 3D printing method destroys vitamins. To fill a 3D printing syringe, food is cooked, dried and ground up – a process in which a significant portion of the vitamins and minerals doesn't survive, she explains. “We eat vegetables, fruit and meat for its structure, but you can’t mimic the structure of a steak, fruit or vegetables, through a 3D printer. Surely that’s not food anymore?,” she wonders. “It’s quite illogical when you think about it. Why first break food down just to restore it with a machine and replace the vitamins you just destroyed?”

The question then becomes: why put so much money in 3D printing if it doesn’t add an extra layer of sustainability or nutrition to our food? For 3D printing, as her Edible Growth project showed, can definitely make sustainable, healthy food available throughout the world. “I wanted to look for an efficient and sustainable solution that would support the ‘natural’ approach,” she says of the project. And her edible ‘ecosystems’ of plants and mushrooms that grows to maturity in just five days definitely illustrates that. While food 3D printing is currently about convenience, combining 3D printing with natural processes such as fermentation and photosynthesis can add so much more value, she says. “[Edible Growth] simply visualized an idea: you can use food 3D printing to make healthy food that doesn’t need to be processed after growth and contains all the nutrients and properties we need,” she argues.

That way the entire food production chain, which now cannot support the world’s complete population, can become far more efficient. By 3D printing your own snacks on the kitchen table, packed with vitamins, we can reduce the agricultural footprint as well. “The farmer’s classic role as grower changes to seed production”, she explains, a change that will reduce waste and transportation costs while increasing the consumer’s awareness. Raw materials take up way less space than a fully grown product, while this intriguing idea even removes preservatives from our meals.

It’s a very interesting concept. While food 3D printing is currently just about convenience and about giving chefs and bakers a new toy to play with, it definitely has the potential to be so much more. Over the past two years, she has already been working with various institutions to take it to the next level, but financial hurdles continue to get in the way. “It’s a big step for many companies, because so little research has been done about this new way to 3D print food,” she concludes. We can only hope that Rutzerveld will be given the opportunity to implement Edible Growth further.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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