While 3D food printing is still in its early stages, inventor/hacker Pablos Holman believes we’ll eventually live in a world where printers in our homes spit out complicated foods like French bread and even something resembling strawberries.
“This isn’t as weird as it sounds,” said Holman, who spends his days working in the lab at Intellectual Ventures, Nathan Myhrvold’s invention and research organization that has become one of the most prolific invention centers – as measured by patents filed and issued – in the world.
According to Holman, wheat and other materials within bread could be stored in “printer” cartridges and turned into bread at the push of a button.
“What a chef is doing is putting wheat through a complicated process to manage texture,” said Holman. “What my 3D printer would do is put down a pixel of wheat, hydrate with a needle, zap it with a laser to cook it, rinse and repeat for every pixel, and it’s going to print you a meal.”
While it’s weird to think of foods traditionally cooked by humans instead being printed on printers, Holman thinks this method is vastly superior to the one-sized-fits-all production method of traditional kitchens.
“The (3D printed) meal is customized and customized for you,” said Holman, who before working at Intellectual Ventures helped to start Jeff Bezos’ space travel company, Blue Origin. “It avoids your allergens, and dietary restrictions and injects your pharmaceuticals.”
In short, Holman believes 3D printed meals could be optimized for each person’s specific dietary requirements and taste profile. “Now we have a way of correlating your diet to health effects. If you have to get off of sodium, we’ll drop it by one milligram a day for months, and you’ll never feel it happen.”
“Unless you have a personal chef, it’s almost impossible for people to do that kind of thing right now,” Holman continued. “What we really want to do is have the computer to know what you ate, know what health effects you are experiencing are, know how to tune your meals so that they’re optimized for you.”
In Holman’s view, the biggest challenge to ushering in a world of personalized printed food will be managing texture. But, he believes, it’s a challenge that is hardly insurmountable: “When you think about what a chef is doing, they’re managing flavor, managing aroma, managing nutrition and they’re managing texture,” said Holman. “I can buy flavor in a bottle. I can buy aroma in a bottle. I can both nutrition in a bottle. What’s left is managing texture.”
And, as Holman sees it, developing 3D food printers that can create food textures that are pleasing to the human tongue is just another step forward on centuries-long creativity continuum that brought us food like French bread and pasta. “We learn new textures are the time,” he said. “God did not invent pasta or French bread. Those are inventions. Humans make those.”
Holman is not shy about sharing this view. Five years ago he went to Parma, Italy, the birthplace of pasta, to speak at Barilla headquarters where he “told a room of full of twelve hundred Italians that God did not invent pasta.”
While Holman hasn’t been invited back, Barilla may have gotten the message anyway: The world’s largest pasta company has since launched its own 3D pasta printer.
If you want to listen to the full conversation with Pablos Holman to hear his views on the evolution of 3D food printing, the development of Intellectual Ventures lab and more, you can download the podcast here, get it on Apple podcasts or just click play below.