It was perhaps no surprise, when researchers set out to push the boundaries of 3D printing, that their attempts to rattle out cheesecakes were not immediately successful.
The first trial started well enough, but as the printer gradually built up the dessert, squirting one layer and then the next, the creation began to slump before quietly collapsing into a gloopy heap.
Despite the early setback, detailed in a research report on Tuesday, engineers at Columbia University pressed on and soon had the printer squeezing out puddings that were recognisable, if not quite irresistible.
The aim of the project was to demonstrate that 3D printing – a technology used more for models and machine parts – had the potential to revolutionise the kitchen, by turning cartridges of food paste and powder into edible, and perhaps one day even enticing, meals.
“The cheesecake is the best thing we can showcase right now, but the printer can do a whole lot more,” said Jonathan Blutinger, an engineer at Columbia’s Creative Machines Lab in New York. “We can print chicken, beef, vegetables and cheese. Anything that can be turned into a paste, liquid or powder.”
A chicken paste roast might not appeal to foodies and fans of the craft of cooking, Blutinger believes that printed food is on its way, a natural consequence of software meeting the archaic, analogue world of cookers, steamers and frying pans.
“I think it’s an inevitability. Once software touches an industry, we don’t look back. It propels it forward in ways we never thought possible. That hasn’t really happened for food yet,” he said.
“The vision is to have a food printer mixed with a laser cooker that can be a one-stop-shop sort of kitchen appliance. It’s your own personal digital chef.”
Writing in the journal npj Science of Food, the researchers describe a 3D printer capable of constructing edible products from seven different ingredients. For the cheesecake, which took 30 minutes to squirt out, this meant biscuit paste, peanut butter, strawberry jam, Nutella, banana