Imagine pushing a button on a machine and watching it print out your dinner. No cooking, no mess, just ready-made pizza, pasta, candy… whatever you want. Sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, right? But with 3D printed food, this fantasy could become a reality sooner than you’d think.

3D printing has become all the rage lately. (If you haven’t heard of the technology, it’s even worth a trip up to North Campus, where the ­­­Digital Media Commons 3D lab offers basic printers for student use.) Basically 3D printing is a manufacturing process that creates three-dimensional solid objects through the additive layering of material into an overall shape. Usually the machines print with ­colored plastics or metals, creating anything from custom-made runway designs to personalized bobble heads; but hey, why not try to print with edible substances too? That’s exactly the direction the industry is moving toward with 3D printed food.

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So far the technology has been a success. 3D printers are already turning out edible chocolate and sugar-based designs. Custom pastas and pizzas are not far behind; especially as big companies like Hershey’s, Barilla pasta and even NASA have jumped on the 3D printing bandwagon. NASA in particular has been working the past year to develop a 3D printed pizza to improve the quality of food in space, and the prototypes have been impressive. Plus, as strange as it may seem, there’s even talks of creating 3D printed meat!

But does 3D printed food pass the taste test? Apparently, yes. The basic ingredients in printing usually remain the same as in cooking, if in simplified versions, so the results taste the same.

More importantly, will 3D printed food aid in the fight to end world hunger or spark a revolution in our food systems?

Probably not, or at least not yet. For now the technology is best suited for custom designs and niche applications. Users are creating intricate edible structures, such as designs with interlocking pieces or personalized touches (which would be too hard to make with a mold, or which are energy intensive), or else are using the technology for extreme situations, like space travel. But who knows how 3D printing will be used in the future? With this new technology, the applications are endless.