May 11, 2016 | By Alec

The foodies among the 3D printing community will doubtlessly remember that the Italian pasta giant Barilla has been working on their very own pasta 3D printer for some time now. Back in 2014, they even hosted the Print Eat! design-your-own-pasta contest to explore the geometric possibilities brought by 3D printing. Fortunately, it looks like the long wait is nearly over. At the CIBUS 2016 International Food Exhibition in Parma this week, the world leader in pasta sales unveiled a working prototype of their pasta 3D printer. Relying on pre-made pasta cartridges, this cool machine can produce four unique pasta shapes in just two minutes.

This fascinating food 3D printer has been under development for four years, and has been built in collaboration with the well-known 3D printing innovators from the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). Nonetheless, its development was met with quite a bit of skepticism, as it goes against everything traditional Italian pasta stands for. Barilla is all too aware of this. “What would our grandmothers say if they knew we make pasta with a printer? Maybe they would burst out laughing; they knew only the rolling pin, the board and pasta-cutting wheel,” they wonder.

But as Michela Petronio, Vice President of Unità Global Discovery Center, argued, it’s a machine that can take food development and dining experiences into the 21rst century. “This is a research project, not only a new product, which would have been unthinkable for a food company 10 years ago,” she said. “This printer allows great freedom in the creation of formats, flour, and tasting experience.” Barilla’s communications director Luca Di Leo offered similar arguments when presenting the 3D printer at CIBUS. “Pasta has a tradition of excellent quality but is also a tradition itself. It’s important to look at the future and at how the pasta of future generations will be,” he said.

What’s more, the machine is really looking better than ever. Of course, previous sneak peeks already showcased a very promising 3D printer. The 2014 Print Eat! design contest especially emphasized the machine’s ability to 3D print any possible shape. Even 3D printed pasta roses could be found among the competition winners. In 2015, Barilla showed how the machine could 3D print fresh pasta in just two minutes or so, using the classic ingredients Durum Wheat Semolina and water.

But at the CIBUS 2016 convention (ongoing until May 12), Barilla reveals more of their final intentions. They are envisioning a cartridge-based pasta 3D printer that can produce one-man portions in just two minutes. The basic ingredients will stay the same, though several different types of cartridges with customized doughs can be expected. Controlling nutritional values, textures and color should all become possible. Even vegetable pastas should become available in the future.

And as Fabrizio Cassotta, Barilla’s Innovation Pasta, Ready Meals and Smart Food Manager, revealed, preparing the pasta should become easier than ever before. “All you need to do is load the dough cartridges in the machine and that’s it. It takes only a few minutes: you choose the pasta shape you want and the data is sent to the printer that materializes ready-to-cook pasta, shaped as cubes, moons, roses or many other shapes. Never seen before pasta shapes made with our favorite ingredients,” he says. Using your iPad, for instance, you can select pre-made pasta shapes from a pasta library, which will be 3D printed by the time you have your water boiling. Because the pasta will, of course, still need to be boiled for a few minutes.

Right now, Barilla is also aiming at a wide range of customers. Restaurants and pasta stores are the first on their list, and say the latter could even produce custom pick-up orders for clients. But Cassotta also argued that they want to bring the technology into home kitchens as well. “We are considering the future scenarios of use, probably at home, since the 3D printers used for plastic and metals cost in their compact format around €1,500,” he said.

But the real question is: how does the 3D printed pasta taste? Marcello Zaccaria, the chef of Accademia Barilla, offered several tasting opportunities to visitors. Among others, he presented a 3D printed pasta dish with pea cream, sautéed calamari, caramelized tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. As he argued, the 3D printed pasta of the future has an excellent quality. “3D pasta is not only a high quality pasta, fast cooking and always al dente, it can also be used to create gourmet recipes,” he said.

Those of us without the opportunity to visit CIBUS 2016, however, will have to wait a bit longer to find out for ourselves. Its developers say the pasta 3D printer is still in its development phase, and that Barilla is still assessing commercial scenarios and applications with a medium to long-term perspective. But the machine is definitely forthcoming. Can you imagine 3D printing custom pasta shells at home?



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