BeeHex Aims to Bring 3D Printing to Food, One Pizza at a Time
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printing technology in food. Natural Machines, based in Barcelona, Spain, has referred to its 3D printer—the Foodini—as the “next microwave,” something that will sit in people’s kitchens and become a daily part of cooking. Users can choose a recipe from Foodini’s touch screen (or from a tablet or laptop since it is wired to the Internet) and the device instructs users on which food to put in each capsule. Foodini says its printer is currently being used by “professional kitchen users” and is expected to be available for general purchase this year for about $2,000.
In London, a pop-up restaurant called Food Ink features a gourmet menu of 3D-printed cuisine. This year, Food Ink will take its 3D printing show on the road for a 22-city world tour starting in Las Vegas.
Technologies such as 3D printing are “a great tease of the mind of what’s possible,” says Robyn Metcalfe, a University of Texas at Austin professor who runs Food+City, an organization that supports innovation to help create a better food system.
Organizations like NASA are interested because the technology that goes into creating the materials for the cartridges can help retard food rot, extending the life cycle of food products. Essentially, the process of creating the edible “ink” from a recipe’s ingredients can not only dehydrate the material but also remove micro-nutrients that can cause spoilage or odors, Contractor says. Those micro-nutrients can be re-added when the food is being prepared for consumption. This process wouldn’t necessarily be needed in commercial food kitchens where food is being consumed quickly, but could come in handy for years-long flights into deep space.
Contractor was previously senior engineer at Systems & Materials Research, the company that received a $125,000 grant from the U.S. space agency to work on the deep space mission food project. When the funding was halted in 2015, Contractor says he decided to found BeeHex.
BeeHex was a finalist for the 2014 Food Challenge Prize administered by Metcalfe’s Food+City group, then called the Food Lab. Metcalfe did not have a chance to try any of the startup’s 3D-printed pizza but understands the growing interest in using the technology to solve problems along the food chain.
While 3D printing could help in carrying out the functions of cooking, Metcalfe says she doesn’t think that the technology has completely captured the essence of cooking and eating—yet. “Food is really complicated,” she says, “Can you really print the full experience?”