Scientists 3D print a cheesecake – and say it could be the future

Scientists have successfully 3D printed a cheesecake – and suggest that it might be the future.

Researchers created the cheesecake using edible food inks, such as peanut butter, Nutella and strawberry, to construct the food itself. And they have already made breakthroughs in how to build those foods: putting them onto crackers and then using food inks to support other ingredients such as jam.

Scientists have been 3D printing for years: it was first introduced in 2005, but so far has been limited only to a small number of uncooked ingredients that lead to unappetising dishes. The new research saw scientists cook the food as it was printed, using a laser, allowing for more different options.

The work was conducted byresearchers at Columbia University, as part of work at its Creative Machines Lab. Scientists suggest that such work could create the future of food – which would allow for precise flavours and personalised nutrition, for example – but that further work must be done before it is actually useful.

“Because 3D food printing is still a nascent technology, it needs an ecosystem of supporting industries such as food cartridge manufacturers, downloadable recipe files, and an environment in which to create and share these recipes. Its customizability makes it particularly practical for the plant-based meat market, where texture and flavor need to be carefully formulated to mimic real meats,” said Jonathan Blutinger, a postdoctoral fellow and lead author on a paper describing the work.

Eventually, the printing of multi-layered foods could allow people to customise foods, improve food safety, and give better control over the nutritional data of a food.

Chefs could change flavours with precision, or release localised versions of dishes, for instance. People with specific diets from people with allergies to athletes could print food that specifically targets their needs.

“We have an enormous problem with the low-nutrient value of processed foods,” said Christen Cooper from Pace University, who also worked on the new paper. “3D food printing will still turn out processed foods, but perhaps the silver lining will be, for some people, better control and tailoring of nutrition – personalized nutrition.

It may also be useful in making food more appealing to those with swallowing disorders by mimicking the shapes of real foods with the pureed texture foods that these patients – millions in the US alone – require.”

There are still many barriers to overcome. Printed food dishes will for instance probably require new kinds of ingredients because of the way they are assembled, the researchers note.

A paper examining the cheesecake and the issues it embodied, ‘The future of software-controlled cooking’, is published in the journal npj Science of Food.