There is a sometimes perception when talking about food 3D printing that the technology is limited to the realms of novelty or gastronomy. And though some of the most cutting-edge food 3D printers do fall into those two categories, there are many ways in which edible 3D prints are being explored. At Dutch startup UPPRINTING FOOD, for instance, food 3D printing is being used to salvage food waste to create a more sustainable and nutritious food economy.
Founded by Eindhoven University of Technology graduate Elzelinde van Doleweerd and Vita Broeken, UPPRINTING FOOD aims to transform unsellable, but still edible food into 3D printed morsels that look and taste delicious. In other words, the startup uses commonly wasted foods in the Netherlands—such as bread or produce that are is either too ripe or too ugly to be sold—and create different pureed mixtures (flavoured with herbs and spices) which can subsequently be extruded into 3D shapes.
Once the shapes are 3D printed from the edible pastes, they are baked and dehydrated, giving them a crunchy, cracker-like texture and a long shelf life. The dehydrating process because it ensure that no water remains in the food, eliminating any risks of harmful bacterial activity. Presently, van Doleweerd and Broeken have come up with a number of bread- and vegetable-based recipes, and are continuously working on new edible concoctions.
Interestingly, there is a gastronomy-slant to UPPRINTING FOOD’s work, as the startup is collaborating with high-end restaurants to reduce residual food flows in their kitchens and offer a unique dining experience. Van Doleweerd is also working with a Beijing-based company, 3D Food Company, to explore the use of commonly wasted ingredients in China, including boiled rice and purple sweet potato.
Food waste is a very real phenomenon. Even though swaths of the world’s population are hungry and inadequately fed, approximately one-third of all food produced is wasted. It was this stunning and frankly scary statistic that inspired van Doleweerd to create an innovative—if niche—solution.