Sometimes technology is fascinating, other times it's frustrating, and more often than not, it's beyond frightening (see: every episode of Black Mirror ever). If you fancy yourself a foodie, you might consider this brand-new tech innovation a combination of all three. Prepare yourself: 3-D printing could be coming to a kitchen near you.
Scientists attending this week's 2018 Experimental Biology Meeting in San Diego are the first to get details about fairly freaky-sounding research aimed at applying 3-D technology to the creation of customized food (yes, food) to fit individuals' unique nutritional needs. Jin-Kyu Rhee, associate professor at Ewha Womans University in South Korea, presented his findings at the event's American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting, explaining just how sci-fi dining could soon get.
"We built a platform that uses 3-D printing to create food microstructures that allow food texture and body absorption to be customized on a personal level," Rhee said in a press statement. "We think that one day, people could have cartridges that contain powdered versions of various ingredients that would be put together using 3-D printing and cooked according to the user's needs or preferences."
Hear that? You too could have your very own powder-based gourmet smorgasbord at the tip of your fingertips! If you're wondering how in the world printed food could be an actual thing, here's how it works: Just like the 3-D printing of any other material, layers of raw material are deposited to build up a final product. In Rhee's research, he and his team re-created the physical properties and nanoscale texture of real food by using a prototype printer. They also figured out how to turn carbohydrate and protein powders into food with microstructures that can be adjusted to control texture and absorption by the body.
The purported upside of all this is that in addition to making every dish totally customizable, individuals and corporations could greatly reduce food waste and the cost of storage and transportation. Rhee and his team also believe 3-D printed food could help address the rapidly increasing food needs of an ever-expanding world population.
"We are only in early stages, but we believe our research will move 3-D food printing to the next level," Rhee said. "We are continuing to optimize our 3-D print technology to create customized food materials and products that exhibit longer storage times and enhanced functionality in terms of body absorption." We just hope it tastes good.