The food of the future could soon be produced by being printed with a 3D machine.
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing involves building up layers of material – plastic, metal or resin – and bonding them together, until eventually you have the finished product.
When 3D printing began to emerge 20 years ago, its boosters promised that it would revolutionise many industries.
And in many ways it has been a big success. There is even a 3D printer on the International Space Station, where it is used to create spare parts.
But many applications are still on a smaller, experimental scale.
For example, food can be 3D printed. Barcelona-based Nova Meat recently unveiled a plant-based steak derived from peas, rice, seaweed and other ingredients.
Using 3D printing allows the ingredients to be laid down as a criss-cross of filaments, which imitate the intracellular proteins in muscle cells.
“This strategy allows us to define the resulting texture in terms of chewiness and tensile and compression resistance, and to mimic the taste and nutritional properties of a variety of meat and seafood, as well as their appearance,” says Guiseppe Scionti, the founder of Nova Meat.
By next year, he says, restaurants could be printing out the steaks for themselves.
“In terms of the technology, there are constantly new applications discovered, with new materials and machines unveiled each year,” says Galina Spasova, senior research analyst at IDC Europe.
There is even a 3D printer on the International Space Station, where it is used to create spare parts.