3D printing has been around for more than 30 years, but lately it’s been making more headlines in the food industry.

The use of 3D printers will radically change how and where food can be manufactured, academic suggests.

Though not widely used in food production, the accessibility of 3D printers is fuelling research into how they can be used to customise foods or speed delivery of food to consumers.

Most 3D printers work by slowly depositing layers of material, one on top of the other, until an object is constructed. The process is called “additive manufacturing,” and it uses deposition printers. Others bind layers together with adhesive — they’re called binding printers.

Some experts believe food printers could minimize waste by using cartridges of hydrocolloids, substances that form gels with water. Those same machines, they theorize, could also use unpalatable but plentiful ingredients — ingredients such as algae, duckweed, and grass — to form the basis of familiar dishes.

Beyond sustainability, 3D food printing has been said to hold great promise for nutrition.

Helping people cut down on the amount of chemical additives in their food and reduce overconsumption, the food printers of tomorrow could even allow customization at the macro nutritional level, allowing users individualize the amounts of calcium, protein, omega-3, and carbohydrates in their meals.

3D food printers may not produce great-tasting food right now, or be able to cook meals from scratch. But if what they promise is true— sustainable, nutritional perfection — it may well be worth a think.

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