A mathematician's sweet dream: For about $10,000, you can print out rainbow sugar dodecahedrons and interlocking cubes.
(3D Systems)
January 14, 2014

Spinach Dinosaurs To Sugar Diamonds: 3-D Printers Hit The Kitchen

From cool casts for a broken arm to impressive replicas of Michelangelo's David, 3-D printing has come a long ways in the past few years.

In fact, the technology is moving so fast that 3-D printers might be coming to your kitchen this year — or at least, to a bakery or bistro down the street.

A company from South Carolina unveiled the first restaurant-grade certified 3-D printer at the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES 2014, in Las Vegas last week.

The countertop device, called the ChefJet, is about the size of a microwave and can churn out chocolate and sugar candies in any geometric shape imaginable. Think hollow honeycombs, rainbow dodecahedrons, interlocking Buckyballs and stitched up globes — all made with sugar infused with mint, sour cherry or vanilla.

Dinosaur quiche, anyone? A traditional spinach quiche gets a technology makeover with the 3-D printer Foodini, which churns out foods in fun shapes, like dinosaurs and butterflies. (Natural Machines)

Although the sugar cubes (can we call them that?) and chocolate sculptures look super cool, there are still some kinks to iron out before the 3-D printers replace pastry chefs and cake decorators.

For starters, "the samples the company handed out [at CES 2014] didn't taste very good," the AP wrote about the candies Monday. That could be problem.

And the ChefJet printer isn't cheap.

A mathematical twist on a cup of coffee: The ChefJet Pro 3-D printer spins sugar into intricate shapes to stir into your coffee or top your cupcakes. (3D Systems)

The company behind it, 3D Systems, is planning to start selling two models of the device later this year. The first one will cost about $5,000 and spins out candies in only one color. The top model, ChefJet Pro, will run you $10,000. But it will create not just multicolored candies but also photograph-quality pictures for wrapping around cakes.

To create the food printers, 3D Systems teamed up with engineers over at the The Sugar Lab in Los Angeles, which had already adapted a regular inkjet printer for the kitchen. The engineers had replaced the ink cartridges with ones that could hold water, sugar or chocolate.

"What's happening in this machine is that it's basically spreading out a fine layer of sugar," a spokeswoman for 3D System told the BBC Wednesday about the ChefJet. "And it's using an inkjet print head to paint on top of that sugar with water. And that allows the sugar to recrystallize and harden into a 3-D printed object."

Of course, the ChefJet isn't the only 3-D food printer in development.

We may not be able to 3-D print an apple pie or Peking duck yet. But you can now make these rainbow sugar spheres and cubes with a $10,000 ChefJet Pro 3-D food printer. (3D Systems)

The pasta giant Barilla is said to be working with a Dutch company to put a new twist on fusilli and rigatoni: "Barilla aims to offer customers cartridges of dough that they can insert into a 3-D printer to create their own pasta designs," The Guardian reported last week. "But the company declined to give further details, dismissing the claims as 'speculation.' "

Meanwhile, a team in Barcelona is probably the closest to getting printed pasta boiling on your stove.

They have developed an appliance, called The Foodini, that automatically prints items like ravioli, gnocchi, pizza and quiches on a baking pan. And then you pop them in the oven to cook.

"We recently made a 'designer fish and chips' with the Foodini," says Lynette Kucsma, the co-founder of Natural Machines, which makes the device. "We printed up mashed potatoes in the shape of a honeycomb and then filled each hole with fish or mashed peas."

The Foodini is still in the early stage of development. Kucsma and her team have a working prototype of it, but they won't start manufacturing it for another six months or so, she says.

If you can design a shape on the computer, than you can print it with sugar or chocolate. (The Sugar Lab)

In the end, Kucsma hopes the device will not only speed up home cooking but also get kids more interested in healthful foods.

"I have two young kids," she tells The Salt. "They are suspicious of anything green on the plate. They wouldn't touch a spinach quiche I made" — until she printed out the dish in the shape of a dinosaur and a butterfly.

"They actually ate every single one of the dinosaur quiches," Kucsma says. "I couldn't believe it. It was the exact same recipe. It was just making it fun for kids so they'd try new foods."

Still, at about $1,300 for each Foodini, that's a pretty pricey bite of spinach.


Crisco was the original product made with partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which contains trans fats. Today, Crisco has only small amounts of the fats.
(Tony Dejak/AP)
November 07, 2013

FDA Moves To Phase Out Remaining Trans Fats In Food Supply

If the Food and Drug Administration has its way, an era of food technology will soon end. The agency announced Thursday it is aiming to ban partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from all food products.

Margaret Hamburg, the FDA commissioner, said at a press conference that her agency has come to the preliminary conclusion that the oils "are not generally recognized as safe for use in food."

If the agency makes this decision final, it will mean a complete ban on this ingredient.

Health concerns about the trans fats in the oil have been mounting for years. The biggest concern? Trans fats raise the risk of heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that an FDA ban on trans fats could prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and up to 20,000 heart attacks each year.

But it took decades for health officials to arrive at that conclusion.

Partially hydrogenated oil came on the market about a century ago when food scientists figured out how to add hydrogen atoms to a molecule of oil. Typically, it's soybean oil.

Kantha Shelke, a scientist with the Institute of Food Technologists in Chicago, says this makes liquid oil more solid, and stable. Depending on how you add the hydrogen atoms, you can make the oil as solid as you like.

"So we could literally dial the needle to as solid as you wanted, and get the kind of results we were looking for," says Shelke.

These results include cookies or doughnuts that didn't leave a ring of oil behind on a paper towel and don't start tasting rancid after a few weeks.

Also, this oil doesn't have a strong taste of its own so you can use lots of it without ruining the flavor.

"It's really absolutely perfect, and it's also perfect for the American style of shopping: You buy boxes and boxes of crackers, put them in your pantry," says Shelke. "You open this box six months or eight months or a year later, and it would still taste and smell just as good as it was on the day you bought it!"

By the time the government came up with laws regulating food additives, people had been eating this form of oil for decades with no apparent problems.

David Schleifer, a researcher at a nonprofit group called Public Agenda, in New York, says most scientists in the 1980s actually thought this kind of oil was probably safer than lard or palm oil. Schleifer wrote a recent journal article on the history of trans fats.

McDonald's, Schleifer says, previously used beef tallow for frying. "People freaked out about beef tallow because it had saturated fat, and McDonald's responded to that public outcry by replacing beef tallow with trans fat," he says.

Everything changed in the mid-1990s. New studies showed that trans fats raised bad cholesterol and increased the risk of heart disease.

In fact, they were even worse than saturated fats. In 2006, after a campaign by public health advocates, the FDA required food companies to add trans fats to food labels.

Most companies responded by drastically cutting their use of partially hydrogenated oil. That had a big impact on consumption — Americans consumed around 1 gram per day in 2012, down from 4.6 grams per day in 2003.

But not every company has eliminated it from every product.

You can still find trans fats in microwavable popcorn, frozen pies and all kinds of mass-produced baked goods. Often, food companies use just a little bit. If there's less than half a gram of trans fats per serving they can list the amount of trans fats in their products as zero.

A complete ban on trans fats would be a big deal for food manufacturers, says Shelke. She says food companies can drop the trans fats, but their products won't be quite the same.

"They have to go back to re-educating consumers that cookies and consumers don't last forever," says Shelke.

The cookies will have a shorter life, but consumers' lives might be longer.

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