3 Digital Cooks' sugar-printing experiment

Last week I reached an all-time low when my 3D printed Nutella selfie ended up looking like an art project by an untalented four-year-old. It made me reconsider why we’re so keen on 3D printing food in the first place.

After all, it’s not going to solve world hunger. It’s not going to change flavors or create new delicious textures. And it’s a long way off from being a cool, easy gadget to pull out of your kitchen cabinet and use at home.

But if used properly, it can be a provocative lens to examine both food and technology. That’s why 3 Digital Cooks’ Luis Rodriguez Alcalde is interested in it. The earnest 3D food printing expert has worked at Autodesk and Natural Machines on 3D food printing projects, and on his own site you’ll find him recording his own experiments both building printers and making food with them. Rodriguez says he got into 3D-printing food by accident: He was looking for cheaper, more accessible ingredients to use in general 3D-printing experiments. But the first time he brought one of his food printers to a maker fare, the audience was captivated. “People have a strong bond with food,” he said. “I don’t need to explain the technology to them, because they already understand food. They get it.”

He says he likes to use hummus to engage and teach chefs about the possibilities inherent in both technology and food. For example, he recently reconfigured a ZCorp 3D printer to work with sugar and made his own architecturally designed sugar cubes.

And that leads me to the other way that 3D-printed food could be useful: to make high-end, highly detailed decorative pieces, like on Cake Boss, but better. Confectioners, pastry chefs, and expert cake makers could use 3D printers to make elaborate sugar cake-toppers, for example.

Right now, though, it’s clear we’re still in the R&D phase of 3D printing. And the sooner we realize “it’s not the Star Trek replicator,” as Rodriguez likes to say, the better.

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