Dec 29, 2016 | By Tess

While 3D printing food technology is moving swiftly ahead, with 3D chocolate, candy, and even 3D printed pizza available for eating, the question does remain: will people actually be interested in eating 3D printed foods? To help address the question, a team of researchers from the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research at the University of Canberra, Australia has conducted a survey to gauge whether people would actually consider adding some 3D printed eats to their regular diet.

Over the past years, 3D food printing has really taken off as a number of organizations, companies, and even individuals have dedicated their time and resources to developing innovative 3D printed edibles. Even NASA has commissioned researchers to develop 3D food printers, as the technology could eventually be viable for 3D printing nutritious (and delicious) food in space. Similarly, places like nursing homes and hospitals could benefit from being able to 3D print food as they could feasibly create easily chewable and digestible vitamin-packed superfoods for their residents.

Food Ink.

On the other end of the spectrum, well renowned chefs and restauranteurs are also being drawn towards the potentials of 3D food printing, as it would allow them to not only integrate nutritious but less conventional ingredients (such as insects, for example), but also opens up a wide range of possibilities for food aesthetics and design. Food Ink., a 3D printed food pop-up restaurant in London has been making headlines for its artistic and creative plates, and the makers behind the nūfood 3D printer are currently raising funds for a 3D printed food tasting experience.

Of course, the aforementioned uses are rather niche, and the more general question of whether 3D printed foods will ever be commercially in demand still remains. Would consumers ever consider buying a 3D printed turkey or ham for their Christmas dinner for instance? Would they buy a food 3D printer for their kitchen? Would parents send their kid to school with a 3D printable lunch?

3D printed pizza

To give a bit of insight into how people might receive 3D printed edibles, researchers Deborah Lupton and Bethaney Turner from the University of Canberra conducted a survey that asked 30 Australians how they respond to the prospect of additively manufactured food. The survey was conducted through an online focus group in March 2016.

Somewhat surprisingly, the survey results showed that many people had not even heard of the technology and had only associated 3D printing with plastics and metals. When introduced a bit to the growing technology, there were still some reservations about eating something that had been processed through 3D printing.

One particularly enlightening section of the survey asked the participants to give their opinion about a range of different 3D printed food items. More specifically, they were asked to comment on seven images of 3D printed foods, including 3D printed candy, 3D printed carrots (made from carrot puree), a cube-shaped snack made from ground up insects, a serving of gelled chicken puree (in the shape of a drum stick) and gelled vegetable puree, a 3D printed pizza, rose shaped pasta (uncooked), and 3D printed rose-shaped chocolates.

Survey findings

The results indicated that people were more receptive and willing to try the more conventional foods, such as the 3D printed chocolate, pizza, and pasta than they were about the cube of 3D printed insects. When asked if they would eat the foods themselves for instance, carrots, chocolate, pizza, and pasta were the only items to score over 50%. The candy, insects, and chicken and vegetables fared less well with 35%, 14%, and 43%, respectively.

The researchers realized through these results that people’s opinions of 3D printed food were likely linked to their standard food perceptions and preferences. As Lupton explained, “Cultural beliefs about what kinds of matter are considered tasty and appropriate to eat were central in our participants' responses.”

Of course, another significant aspect is the processing that needs to take place for 3D printing food. Understandably, in a society that preaches natural and organic, people would have misgivings about eating foods that have been processed through a 3D printer. Despite these initial doubts, however, it seems that 3D printed food could become more viable as it becomes more familiar to people, and less of a novelty.

3D printed pureed meal

As the researchers conclude, “Our findings suggest that those actors who wish to promote 3D food printing technologies need to consider the attributes of content, sensory qualities, and level of processing in their efforts to encourage people to accept the technologies and their products… Such a novel food technology is still open to its meanings and uses being shaped, but as our research has demonstrated, there are some major issues to be considered in efforts to normalise it and the food it generates.”

Tell us, how do you feel about eating food that has been 3D printed?



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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