No, it's not "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" or "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"   this could be real life. While it was once the stuff of fiction, the idea of 3D printed food could be a new reality. In fact, 3D printed food has already been created through a number of organizations. While the idea is far from perfect and not quite ready to end world hunger just yet, it's a movement worth getting to know. Who knows? You could be printing off a burger to nosh at work instead of having to order a sandwich.

How Does it Work?

3D printing works by essentially heating up and forming plastic onto a molding plate. You create the model you want to make on the computer and then send the command to the printer, which extrudes the material from a nozzle in a pattern to create that object. Currently, 3D printing is used for various modeling applications.

When it comes to food, however, the application gets a little confusing. The material is no longer plastic, but must be some type of food paste that is essentially shaped and modeled into something that resembles food   say, licorice. The printed food is in fact edible and can be made in a variety of flavors and textures, depending on the material used.


Where and Why?

The idea that 3D food is part of the future is shared by those who hope something akin to a 3D printer could be the answer to world hunger. After all, manufacturing costs and ingredients drive the prices for processed foods higher. With the ability to "print" food from various pastes and potions, you wouldn't have to hand money over to food manufacturers to get your Cheeto fix. While that is still impossible, new innovations are getting us closer every day. In fact, NASA is currently exploring the ability to create food via 3D printer in space, so the idea has some very powerful backers.

When?

To be honest, printed food still has a long way to go. Those who have tried to print food using industrial and even home 3D printers will tell you that it's difficult and temperamental, not to mention that food pastes aren't always at the height of nutrition. But the simple idea that people are trying gives us hope that printed food may not be too far in the future.

So 3D printed food may not be the most appetizing or healthy option that the food industry has ever come up with, but that just means there's plenty of room for improvement. As NASA continues to back the development and at-home printer cooks continue to experiment with different tastes and methods, the idea that you could head to your computer when you have a craving for sour treats and sweet eats   instead of going to the candy store   is attractive. Hey, you might want to start loading up on tomato paste now.

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