Pizza printing – Food that’s out of this world?

Technology developed for NASA could bring printable food to your kitchen

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Is there anything that can’t be produced with a 3D printer? Well yes, of course there are – lots of them. But while the list of things you can’t print is long, it seems to be getting shorter every day. Tech pioneers are constantly developing new printers that can print new things, and now there’s a Kickstarter funding drive under way for one that can print pizzas.

Printable food isn’t exactly a new idea. There are already several projects underway, aimed at developing systems for restaurants and professional chefs that can create a variety of edible products. Inventor Anjan Contractor has a different idea. His vision is for a culinary printer that will take its place among other kitchen appliances – like juicers, dehydrators and espresso machines.

Right now that’s probably still a few years in the future. The technology exists but it’s not yet reliable or affordable enough to be on sale beside the toasters and kettles. It does work though, and Contractor is proving that to his Kickstarter donors. Support his project and he’ll print you a pizza, freeze it and post it to you (if you live in the USA).

Space oddity

By now you’re probably wondering what the point is. Yes, it might be possible to 3D print a pizza, but why would you bother? It’s not like there aren’t quicker, easier and cheaper ways to make a pizza, after all. The Romans ate pizza (although without the tomato sauce). Frozen pizza is cheap, and can be easily prepared in an oven. In fact there’s no need to make pizza at all; pick up the phone and half an hour later your doorbell will ring, signalling the arrival of hot, ready to eat pizza.

So what on Earth’s the point? Well, what if you’re not on Earth? Contractor’s working through Kickstarter now, but he got started with a grant from NASA. The idea was to develop a food printer for astronauts. So far space missions have either been relatively short – the moon landings, for example – or get regular resupplies of food, like the International Space Station. That means individual meal pouches are a practical option. On a long voyage, perhaps to Mars, it’s a bit different. When years’ worth of food has to be carried it’s much simpler to pack it as bulk ingredients, and a 3D printer lets those be turned back into edible food.

Back to basics

Contractor’s designs use cartridges of powdered ingredients, water and oil, which are mixed on demand then printed to the work surface. His pizza printer starts with a powdered bread mix which is rehydrated and laid down to form the base, then tops it with reconstituted tomato powder and finally a layer of dehydrated cheese mixed with oil. Domestic versions are likely to offer more variety by using less basic ingredients, but the principle is the same: You snap in the appropriate cartridges, load a recipe and hit “Print”, then sit back and watch your meal take shape. The first designs will produce uncooked items, but Contractor is already planning more advanced models with a built-in oven. Even if you’re not planning to fly to Mars there’s a lot of potential in a printer that can create a pizza when all the takeaways are shut, so this is one project that could end up with a lot of fans.

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