Custom 3D Printed Vitamins Are Just A Few Clicks Away

It’s recently come to our attention that a company by the name of Nourished has carved out a niche for themselves by offering made-to-order gummy vitamins produced with their own custom designed 3D printers. Customers can either select from an array of pre-configured “stacks”, or dial in their own seven layers of gelatinous goodness for a completely bespoke supplement.

Now we can’t vouch for whether or not taking a custom supplement like this is any better than just popping a traditional multi-vitamin, but we’ll admit the hardware Nourished has developed is pretty interesting. As briefly seen in the video after the break, large syringes are filled with the seven different vitamin suspensions, and then loaded into what appears to be a heated chamber for extrusion. This is not unlike other food-grade 3D printers we’ve seen, such as the Cocoa Press.

It looks like all of the syringes are being depressed simultaneously with a plate and a pair of beefy lead screws, so it seems the order in which the layers are placed down must be different for each nozzle. A blog post on the company’s site from early last year shows a wildly different machine being used to produce the vitamins, so either their core technology is changing rapidly, or perhaps the printer being used depends on whether they’re running off the customized stacks versus the standard formulations.

Interestingly, this is very similar to a concept floated by the U.S. Army’s Combat Feeding Directorate (CFD) back in 2014. They reasoned that a 3D printer could be used to produce meal bars that were customized for each soldier’s personal nutritional needs. Being largely impractical for the battlefield, the program didn’t get very far. But thanks to consumers who are willing to pay the premium that Nourished is charging for this service, it seems the idea has turned into a lucrative business model.

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Making Printed Food More Palatable For Those Who Need It

Most foods when pureed become pretty unappetizing to look at. For that reason, patients who have trouble swallowing are often given pureed food that’s been molded into fun shapes to make it more appealing. The problem with molding food is that it’s labor-intensive, time-consuming, and the resulting edible toys require a lot of storage space.

When 3D printing came along, it was poised to solve the problem, but in the quest to make foods printable, they became even worse. Printable food paste typically starts with dehydrated and/or freeze-dried vegetables, and then hydrocolloids like xanthan gum and locust bean gum are added so the paste holds together after extrusion. Unfortunately, these additives are a big step backward; they change the texture for the worse, and make the food smell and taste bad, too.

The solution is one of those things that sounds obvious in hindsight: some researchers in Singapore tried using fresh and frozen foods instead of freeze-dried, and figured out the minimum amount of hydrocolloids they could get away with for a given food. In their research they categorized all the feasible foods this way. Some vegetables like garden peas which have higher starch and lower water percentages don’t need any hydrocolloids to be printable. As the starch level falls and water rises, more hydrocolloids are needed. So carrots can get away with using just one type of hydrocolloid, while things like bok choy need two types to print effectively. Even so, results of the study show that fresh vegetable printing calls for far less than their powdered counterparts to the extent that it no longer affects the taste of the end product.

The researchers envision a future where every hospital and elder care facility has a food printer to churn out carrot boats and spinach skylines on demand. We think this tasty development is totally awesome — it’s just too bad the carrot boats don’t look more like Benchy.

In the mood for printed food? Our own [Tom Nardi] sampled the menu of additive edibles a while back.

Thanks for the tantalizing tip, [Qes]!

3D Printering: The Quest For Printable Food

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.

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