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Tech by VICE

The 3D Printer That Serves Dinner

Foodini's creations look totally cool, but it's no kitchen revolution just yet.

by Victoria Turk
Mar 28 2014, 2:30pm
Image: Kickstarter/Natural Machines

Food has long been a target of the nascent 3D printing industry, perhaps because a lot of it already comes in a form ideal for squeezing through a machine’s print heads, it doesn’t leave a load of junk plastic in its wake, and, weThe ll, everyone loves eating.

We’ve already seen a few food printers that specialise in certain types of cuisine, like the Cubify ChefJet that made a strong showing at CES this year; it prints awesomely futuristic-looking sugar and chocolate shapes. Now another model has Kickstarter in a flurry, as food-printers try to move their machines from prototype to market

Foodini, made by Florida-based Natural Machines, claims to be “the first 3D food printer to print all types of real, fresh, nutritious foods, from savory to sweet.” That means you can stick any food you like in it—it comes with empty food capsules you fill yourself.

Video: Kickstarter/Natural Machines

There’s no denying it looks totally cool, a lot like one of those high-tech coffee machines that has lots of shiny black finishes and greets you when you turn it on. It’s already attracted over $40,000 of its $100,000 crowd funding goal, with 28 days to go. There’s evidently something very attractive about the idea of printing your dinner in crazy shapes.

But so far, that’s pretty much all that consumer 3D food printing has shown itself capable of (we're not all printing in vitro animal-free meat just yet). As a result it doesn’t seem like food printers are going to be a must-have appliance on the level of the microwave oven (which Foodini’s Kickstarter compares itself to) in the immediate future. 

Where microwaves made cooking food a lot more convenient—they’re quicker, easier, and cheaper than buying an oven—Foodini doesn’t really replace any major food preparation steps. The company highlights a few suggestions of where 3D printing might streamline food production as “forming dough into fish-shaped crackers, or forming ravioli.” I don’t know about the quality of your everyday meals, but that seems like a pretty niche application.

Encouraging people to make their own food out of fresh ingredients is a noble goal, but offering what ultimately amounts to little more than just new presentation opportunities seems unlikely to dampen the draw of convenience foods, even if it involves dinosaur shapes.

That’s not to mention the cost—expected retail price is listed as $1,300—and the extra faff that 3D printing adds to preparing a meal. To actually print food, you first have to blend it up into a printable slurry, so while it’s technically possible to print a whole pizza or bean burger with the Foodini, the watery bread mush doesn’t exactly make it an appetising prospect. And you can say goodbye to crunchy vegetables.

You of course still have to cook any food that can’t be eaten raw, either before or after printing, and 3D printing still isn’t exactly a super-speedy process.

Ultimately, a 3D food printer is just a robotic assembly machine; a techno-sous-chef that can model food into fancy shapes. That’s totally cool—just check out Foodini’s intricate chocolate vases—but it’s no real kitchen revolution.

Now, a microwave-3D printer hybrid: that’s when the real home-cooked future will have arrived.

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