Not long after the first desktop 3D printers were created, folks started wondering what other materials they could extrude. After all, plastic is only good for so much, and there’s plenty of other interesting types of goop that lend themselves to systematic squirting. Clay, cement, wax, solder, even biological material. The possibilities are vast, and even today, we’re still exploring new ways to utilize additive manufacturing.
But while most of the research has centered on the practical, there’s also been interest in the tastier applications of 3D printing. Being able to print edible materials offers some fascinating culinary possibilities, from producing realistic marbling in artificial steaks to creating dodecahedron candies with bespoke fillings. Unfortunately for us, the few food-safe printers that have actually hit the market haven’t exactly been intended for the DIY crowd.
That is, until now. After nearly a decade in development, Ellie Weinstein’s Cocoa Press chocolate 3D printer kit is expected to start shipping before the end of the year. Derived from the Voron 0.1 design, the kit is meant to help those with existing 3D printing experience expand their repertoire beyond plastics and into something a bit sweeter.
So who better to host our recent 3D Printing Food Hack Chat? Ellie took the time to answer questions not just about the Cocoa Press itself, but the wider world of printing edible materials. While primarily designed for printing chocolate, with some tweaks, the hardware is capable of extruding other substances such as icing or peanut butter. It’s just a matter of getting the printers in the hands of hackers and makers, and seeing what they’ve got an appetite for.
While we don’t often see them in the hobbyist community, 3D printers that can extrude gels and viscous liquids have existed commercially for years, and are increasingly used for biological research. [Ahron Wayne] has recently been working with such a printer as part of a project to develop a printed wound dressing made of honey and blood clotting proteins, but for practice purposes, wanted to find a cheaper and more common material that had similar extrusion properties.
The material he settled on ended up being common toothpaste. In the video below you can see him loading up the cartridge of a CELLINK INKREDIBLE+ bioprinter with the minty goop, which is then extruded through a thin blunt-tip needle by compressed air. After printing out various shapes and words using the material, often times directly onto the bristles of a toothbrush, he’s come up with a list of tips for printing similarly viscous substances.
First and foremost, go slow. [Ahron] says the material needs a moment to contract after being extruded if it’s going to have any hope of supporting the next layer of the print. Thick layer heights are a necessity, as is avoiding sharp curves in your design. He also notes that overhangs must be avoided, and though it probably goes without saying, clarifies that an object printed from toothpaste will never be able to support anything more than its own weight.
A video has been making the rounds on social media recently that shows a 3D printed “steak” developed by a company called NovaMeat. In the short clip, a machine can be seen extruding a paste made of ingredients such as peas and seaweed into a shape not entirely unlike that of a boot sole, which gets briefly fried in a pan. Slices of this futuristic foodstuff are then fed to passerby in an effort to prove it’s actually edible. Nobody spits it out while the cameras are rolling, but the look on their faces could perhaps best be interpreted as resigned politeness. Yes, you can eat it. But you could eat a real boot sole too if you cooked it long enough.
To be fair, the goals of NovaMeat are certainly noble. Founder and CEO Giuseppe Scionti says that we need to develop new sustainable food sources to combat the environmental cost of our current livestock system, and he believes meat alternatives like his 3D printed steak could be the answer. Indeed, finding ways to reduce the consumption of meat would be a net positive for the environment, but it seems his team has a long way to go before the average meat-eater would be tempted by the objects extruded from his machine.
But the NovaMeat team aren’t the first to attempt coaxing food out of a modified 3D printer, not by a long shot. They’re simply the most recent addition to a surprisingly long list of individuals and entities, not least of which the United States military, that have looked into the concept. Ultimately, they’ve been after the same thing that convinced many hackers and makers to buy their own desktop 3D printer: the ability to produce something to the maker’s exacting specifications. A machine that could produce food with the precise flavors and textures specified would in essence be the ultimate chef, but of course, it’s far easier said than done.