Ready to taste the future of food?
Tech Insider spoke with Lynette Kucsma, the co-founder of Natural Machines, a Barcelona based food agency rolling out Foodini, a 3D food printer.
First announced in 2013, Kucsma is excited to introduce people to printed food, but understands if we’re, at least initially, confused.
“You’re not gonna walk into a kitchen appliance store, see a 3D food printer and say ‘Hey I need one of those, let me buy one!'” Kucsma told us. “It’s too new of a concept, people don’t know what it is.”
But she thinks that’s about to change.
Kucsma says consumers in more than 80 countries have expressed interest in the device. At about $2,000, Foodini is primarily used by high-end kitchens and restaurants right now. But Kucsma sees them as part of a typical household within the next ten years.
Keep reading to learn more about 3D food printing, and how long it will be until you have a food printer in your kitchen.
The first thing to understand about Foodini is that it doesn’t make food from scratch. It’s cool, but it is not magic.
Think of a pastry bag icing a cupcake. Edible material is placed inside the pastry bag and you guide it as it flows from the pastry bag onto the cupcake base. Similarly, a food printer releases edible material, following a precise, set pattern. Check out these goldfish crackers, below.
The food material follows a goldfish pattern as it is released from the printer. The consumer supplies the actual food, while Foodini guides (“prints”) the edible material according to a specific pattern. The entire process takes only a few minutes.
The consumers themselves supply the cooking ingredients, which is then placed into stainless steel capsules.
Foodini ships with capsules which consumers fill with their own ingredients. The capsules are re-usable and just need to be cleaned and refilled after use. Natural Machines doesn’t actually supply the ingredients that go into the capsules, but Kucsma says this sidesteps the need to put in additives or chemicals to preserve food during the shipping and storing process.
“We don’t require any gelling agents or special chemicals to print,” she told us. “It’s just fresh, real food.”
In the future, however, Kucsma says Natural Machines will work with certain retailers and delivery services that will allow consumers to purchase ready-made food capsules, which they can then print. Kucsma says this is a healthier alternative to snack food from the grocery store, because these foods are local and unprocessed.
“A lot of those retail and food manufactures are actually approaching us,” Kucsma said. “So there’s a huge interest in 3D food printing right now, especially with the way we’re doing it with the fresh ingredients.”
Kucsma says the culinary world has responded very well to the device, with high-ranking chefs saying it’s perfect for precise, repetitive tasks.
Creating dishes like the vase or star seen above require near perfect placement, over and over again. Kucsma says one of the reasons chefs have taken to the device is because of its incredible precision.
“They totally get it in five minutes or less,” Kucsma says. “They get very excited about it. They are not at all worried that it will replace them in the future, that’s not our intention. They look at it as a kitchen tool that allows them to plate presentations or dishes that they just cannot physically do by hand or to automate certain food tasks.”
“I think it’s very interesting,” Pérez said, “what today’s technology is contributing to gastronomy. Creativity is shaped by what technology can do.”
Natural Machines wants Foodini to become a home appliance. The company is looking at the microwave as an influence.
Right now, Foodini doesn’t have a heating component to cook food. You’d have to place the printed material into an oven. But the ability to both print and cook food, Kucsma says, is key to the device breaking into the home appliance market.
“We’re actually to the point where we’re taste-testing food cooked with our cooking version,” she said. “We know that’s really gonna be [of] high interest to consumers, so that’s part of the transition: get [Foodini] on the market first and then by that point you’ll start eating food at sporting events, in restaurants, [and] you’ll start getting used to the idea and it’s not such a mental jump to buy it.”
Foodini is mostly targeted to the restaurant and hotel industries, to get people used to the idea of eating 3D printed food. From there, Kucsma hopes, people will be more comfortable with the idea of printing their own food. She notes how microwaves were introduced to a skeptical audience in the early 1970s.
“There was a lot of resistance to [the microwave] because people didn’t understand it,” said Kucsma. “It was a new technology. ‘Why do I need a microwave if [I have] a perfectly good oven?’ We see a similar trajectory with 3D food printers except it’s gonna happen much faster. We accept technology a lot faster and the technology evolves a lot faster.”
Kucsma sees Foodini as the future of the “smart” kitchen.
“Your kitchen is going to become more intelligent as time goes by,” said Kucsma. “So you will have connected devices that talk to each other.”
By the time food printers become a typical kitchen appliance, they will able to communicate with other smart devices. Kucsma said to imagine information being sent between your Fitbit and Foodini.
“You [could] connect your Fitbit to your food printer and it can print a breakfast bar, for example, that’s appropriate for you on that given day,” she said.
Right now, the sensors on Foodini’s food capsules can already make food recommendations and even monitor caloric intake.
“You can print a dessert or what have you that stops at 200 calories and it will stop once it hits that calorie count.”