Mind & Matter


Printed Food Becomes a Reality

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Hydrocolloid Printing. Photo courtesy of Cornell University.


In a post I wrote after attending the CIDAG conference in Portugal, I commented on a lecture given by Rajendrakumar Anayath about emerging printing technologies. His "3-M" theory in particular piqued my interest, as it outlined the expanded use of printing technologies in manufacturing and medicine as well as media.


Based on a new project by Cornell University, Dr. Anayath can add another "M" to his list: meals. In a series of recent papers, Cornell researchers promote the development of "hydrocolloid printing" or "solid freeform fabrication" (SFF) as a means to create food via printing. Like other forms of digital fabrication, the new process will enable high-precision control of products in a decentralized fashion, as well as the "fabrication of multi-material objects with high geometric complexity."


According to the Cornell researchers, "examples of potential future applications include cakes with complex, embedded 3D letters, such that upon slicing the cake, a message is revealed. Or, even a prime rib with a hidden message. Perhaps an on-demand, customizable menu in which the dish is prepared in any 3D shape that the diner desires: the diner can co-create with the culinary artist in real-time."


Such a proposal is likely to inspire a mixed response—many foodies will be appalled, while some experimental chefs will embrace the new technology. Regardless of the response, it is worth remembering the degree to which current food production is already heavily industrialized. Interestingly, the scientists claim that hydrocolloid printing is the path to mass-customization—a goal that typical industrial molding, extrusion and die-cutting procedures cannot achieve.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.