It’s Saturday morning. You’ve just slept in two hours past your regular wake-up time, and are feeling rather fresh as you amble through the house towards the kitchen. Reaching into the refrigerator, you grab the milk, and then go over to the dish drain and pull out a fresh bowl and spoon. You can almost taste the sweet, satisfying crunch of the [easyazon-link asin=”B000EDBPP2″ locale=”us”]honey granola[/easyazon-link] that you are about to eat, and crave it so much that you consider munching on a dry handful immediately. But then you open the cabinet, and devastation hits. The little container that is used solely for breakfast cereals sits in a dark corner of the shelf, empty and a bit pathetic looking. You sigh, retrieving it, and amble over to the other side of the kitchen where a large appliance sits. Utilizing the touch screen face, you press a combination of several command buttons, then place the cereal container into a cubby within the machine. Then you leave for a little while, and when you come back, the container is full. Seconds later, you are enjoying a bowl of freshly printed granola.
This story, of course, is fictional, but how about the technology involved? As it turns out, printed food isn’t as sci-fi as we think; in fact, it’s an up and coming technology.
Anjan Contractor, of Systems & Materials Research Corporation, is working on a universal food synthesizer, sponsored by a $125,000 grant from NASA. It would build foods using cartridges of powder and oils, available at a local grocer, that are shelf-stable for up to 30 years, and would create meals that are customized to the individual’s needs. Contractor believes that the food resources on Earth will grow scarcer in the next century, due to a peak in world population. His vision is to provide every household with a sustainable way of living, eliminating world hunger and providing individuals with access to proper nutrition.
While this humanitarian effort is truly incredible, why would NASA, a company that focuses on space exploration, be so eager to back food printing? The answer: Mars. With outer planetary travel becoming more a reality everyday, one of the biggest problems that astronauts face is how to preserve and store food for long journeys through space. Even with a rocket ship that could travel all the way to a neighboring planet, without proper sustenance, we could never undergo a mission. With printers that could provide food on demand though, the possibilities broaden substantially, not just in the science world, but the art world as well.
While top ranking chefs are currently considered the masters of culinary creation for their ability to blend presentation and taste into one, but this may not be the case within the new few decades. As [easyazon-link asin=”B00B1UKZC6″ locale=”us”]3D Printing[/easyazon-link] for food comes online, it not only creates a way for us to synthesize the types of meals that we already enjoy: it gives us a scaffolding on which to build new flavor, textures and tastes. We have already begun to genetically modify a large amount of the things we already eat, so the idea of tweaking DNA chains to produce a unique type of food isn’t that far-fetched. In the future, restaurants may be nothing more than a place where software coders take specific orders, then design and print them for the customer, customized down to the last molecule. We can only hope that when that day arrives, the service will be good.
Though the first designs of food will most likely be simple and perhaps a little bland, I imagine this technology won’t take long to hit the mainstream market, and food designers will come presumably thereafter. In that case, I humbly present a suggestion to the parents of any MIT hopefuls – let them play with their food.