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There's More to 3-D Printed Food Than Sugar Cubes

Dutch designer Chloé Rutzerveld thinks that 3-D printed food need not be limited to colored sugar sculptures or newfangled pasta shapes. Her "Edible Growth" project combines on-demand technology with fungal spores and sprouts.

Ever sighed into an empty fridge, wishing that you could have a wholesome, fresh, beautiful, and delicious snack? We've all heard whispers of 3-D printed food lately—at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, 3-D sugar tetrahedrons wowed the nerds in attendance and even some big-name candy manufacturers. But we're still nowhere near pressing a button and getting a freshly printed frisée salad on demand.


Chloé Rutzerveld, a student at Eindhoven University of Technology, isn't satisfied with those limitations, though. Chloé's 3-D printer concept, titled "Edible Growth," is so far just a prototype, but its proposed creations are elegant, edible, and sustainable.

Chloe Rutzerveld

The Edible Growth project. An Edible Growth prototype.

Using layers of edible plants, seeds, spores, and other microorganisms, Edible Growth creates intricate small meals that combine living mushrooms and greens with the mechanization of the most industrialized foods. In a nutshell, the Edible Growth products are composed of a nutritious base, or "edible matrix," of nuts, fruits, agar, and protein (which can even come from insects) that are extruded by a 3-D printer. That matrix becomes the soil, more or less, for sprouting seeds, yeasts, beneficial bacteria, and mushroom spores to grow in over the course of five days. Finally, there's a crust layer composed of carbohydrates and more protein, to hold everything else like a little superfood pastry.

Although it's years away from going to market—in fact, the prototypes show here were made by hand—it's the type of innovation that will undoubtedly inspire future food designers to expand beyond the current limitations of 3-D printed food.

We caught up with Chloé to pick her brain about Edible Growth and her other food-based projects.

MUNCHIES: Hi, Chloé. So, what are some of the challenges that designers often run into when 3-D printing food? I think that would be the specific software you need to master, both for designing the object as well as operating the printer. Within the Edible Growth project, the main focus was not the complex 3D modelling or learning how to operate the printers, but on the exploration of possibilities of this technique to create healthy, sustainable and self-sufficient food. Real food—no sugar sculptures or pasta shapes.


Another thing is the printing of food itself. 3-D printing with food is not very simple, which is why only sugar and pastes are successfully printed at this point. All elements (file, 3-D printer, thickness and structure of the material) must be perfectly matched to get the desired result. 3-D printing in general, but specifically with food, requires a lot of patience in the first trials. It's about trying, experimenting, adjusting parameters one at a time, and repeating the steps.

3d printen

The matrix being printed. Photo by Bart van Overbeeke.

How did you come up with the Edible Growth project? At the beginning of my final bachelor project I was thinking about different ways of making eating more efficient and sustainable, starting from the digestive system and actual absorption of food. I needed answers to a lot of questions that were too specific to find on the Internet, which is why I contacted scientists from TNO (Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research). Instead of answering my questions, they were so enthusiastic about my portfolio and previous food projects that they offered me a graduation spot, in which I was challenged to think about new 3-D printed food concepts.

I took on the challenge and developed several innovative food concepts in which I tried to combine my research and previous experiences and knowledge about food. Edible Growth is one of these concepts. The Edible Growth project fits the category "Food for Thought" and is partly created as a form of critical design. I want to show that high-tech food or lab-produced food does not have to be unhealthy, unnatural, and not tasteful. Edible Growth is an example of high-tech but fully natural, healthy, and sustainable food made possible by combining aspects of science, design, technology and food. Edible Growth shows real growth, an intensifying flavor and structure, makes smart use of natural processes like fermentation and photosynthesis, and lowers the use of resources.

overzicht wel groeien

Seeds sprouting in an agar base. Photo by Bart van Overbeeke.

How did you construct the prototypes? Unfortunately, the final prototype is made by hand because the techniques to actually print this system should be further researched and developed. Due to time constrains and monetary issues, we were unable to take the project beyond the research and development stages.

However, I did do a lot of experiments with seeds, edible breeding grounds, fermentation processes and mushrooms to find ways to prevent contamination, to look into the effects different breeding grounds have, etc. We also did several shape studies and printing tests with insect paste!

Growth test

Sprouts in agar.

What challenges did you run into in the development process? I sometimes forgot I was not a scientist, but a (food) designer. I sometimes lacked scientific knowledge, or lab experience about living organisms to fully understand the processes in order to improve certain aspects. For scientists it's sometimes really difficult to make a contribution because it's hard for them to be very creative and imagine non-existing systems. Which is why I had to do most of the experimentation myself via trial and error.


A mouse liver parfait for another project.

What is your interest in food from a design standpoint? How does Edible Growth fit in with your other projects? I think nature is the world's greatest source of inspiration. People who've read the Blue Economy by Gunter Pauli might know. I'm especially triggered by the peculiarities of the human body, natural processes and the beauty and sensory stimulation of food.


I think food is the most intimate form of design as it goes inside peoples bodies while stimulating our senses and recalling memories. I love to use food as a medium to address or communicate and discuss social, cultural, and scientific issues.

Edible Growth, along with The Other Dinner and In vitro ME, are about the sustainability of food, eating habits, culture, moral decisions, food chains, and new technologies like stem cell culturing or 3-D printing. These projects are all developed by combining aspects of art/design and science/technology while meeting very interesting experts.


An Edible Growth prototype.

For your Experimental Cooking project, you prepared mice liver parfait bonbon. What was that like? The mice liver parfait chocolate was part of the cooking workshop during The Other Dinner event I organized during an internship at the Waag Society in Amsterdam. One of the eight groups carefully dissected a mouse, collected the livers and made the filling for the chocolates. (The rest of the mice was used during the in vitro meat workshop that day, because mice cells multiply much faster than cow cells, which they recently used for the creation of in vitro meat.)

The entire group of 60 people tried the mice liver parfait bonbon after dinner. The actual taste is not bad of all, it tastes quite good combined with dark chocolate to be honest. Actually most people enjoyed it! But of course there were people who were already disgusted by the thought of eating mice livers. After The Other Dinner, I don't eat that much meat any more.

Thanks for speaking with us, Chloe.