XYZprinting wants to feed you 3D-printed cookies
In front of me, there’s an appliance that looks like a futuristic microwave. It’s unusually large, at a little over 60cm tall, but the curved metal sides and gloss black fascia are markedly more stylish than your average kitchen gadget. That’s because this is XYZprinting’s prototype 3D food printer – the first 3D printer you could genuinely expect to put in your kitchen. Fittingly, this particular example has taken up residence in School of Wok, an Asian cookery school just a short walk from Charing Cross station.
“Savoury items such as cream cheese and pâté can be printed directly onto bread, toast or pancakes.”
While XYZprinting is better known for its more traditional 3D printers, this prototype explores the culinary possibilities of applying the tech to the kitchen. However, unlike rival devices I’ve seen, XYZprinting’s vision of the 3D food printer doesn’t swap plastic filaments for sugar- and water-based materials. Instead, it’s using real food; real ingredients plucked from a kitchen such as dough and chocolate spread, as well as savoury items such as cream cheese and pâté that can then be printed directly onto bread, toast or pancakes.[gallery:8]
Mmm, cream cheese and pâté pancakes – my favourite
Here’s one I printed earlier
The printing process is surprisingly simple. Pull on the handle at the front and there’s room for three plastic tubes of “printing material”. Close the door, select a suitable 3D model from the touchscreen on the front of the device, and press Start. As you can transfer 3D models over Wi-Fi, USB stick or via a USB connection from a PC, it really couldn’t be easier. Best of all, you can use the same models that you’d use with one of XYZprinting’s 3D printers – as long, that is, they aren’t too complex.
The time taken depends on the size of the model, but the flag pictured below took around 12 minutes. It doesn’t take an expert eye to recognise that high-precision detail is not the forte of this machine, but it’s still a fun proof-of-concept – and apparently it’s possible to print creations up to 20cm high. Giant cookies anyone? By far the best news, however, is that XYZprinting is looking to future models that will both print and bake the final creations, but for now you have to factor in the baking time in a traditional oven.
These refillable tubes can be stuffed with pretty much anything that has the correct consistency – I joked that most of the tubes looked like they’re filled with Play-Doh, and was told that’s exactly what XYZprinting’s designers used when they were originally prototyping the device. Thankfully, I was treated to real cookie-dough-based creations, though.
Right now, it’s safe to say that the technology is purely within the realms of novelty. The relatively thick nozzles and, by London’s standards, blazing heat caused all manner of problems for the printer. The consistency of the printing materials is the key to success here, and with the 30˚C weather combined with the warm blast of air from the School of Wok’s busy kitchens, it was anything but an ideal scenario for food printing. It will be some time before the technology is capable of creating the same complex geometric shapes as a traditional 3D printer.[gallery:5]
That said, the biggest question here is whether it tastes good, and the answer is yes, it really does. Put in a good-quality cookie dough mix, combine with some cutesy 3D models of bears, and the result is a tray of super-cute, super-tasty cookies. That’s a winning combination. (Admittedly, someone who shall remain nameless had eaten all the nicely printed bears by the time I got a chance to snap the above photo.)
Please, Sir, can I have some more (3D-printed cookies)?
Right now, you can’t rush out and buy one – only 200 have been sold to businesses and interested parties, with each of the prototype printers sold at a cost of roughly 1,000 euros each. Still, that’s pretty reasonable when you recall the stratospheric cost of basic 3D printers when they first came out.
Sadly, though, there’s no confirmed release date for the final product. If you’re already salivating at the prospect of printing your own bespoke 3D-printed Hobnobs, then you’ll just have to wait patiently until XYZprinting’s 3D food printer finally hits the mainstream. Until then, McVitie’s needn’t be worried.