Printer to plate: The future of food?

Ned Booker 1 March 2017

Cambridge-based design firm Dovetailed have unveiled their vision for the future of food: 3D printed dishes on demand.

The company’s nῡfood robot can create culinary 3D structures which in practice look like small mounds of colourful caviar.

The robot builds its creations using base liquid ingredients that Dovetailed plan on supplying, including sauces, juices and cocktails. The robot can then encapsulate the liquids and build the resulting droplets into larger shapes. Potential creations suggested by the creators include roast beef jelly, a grapefruit flavoured star that can be added to a pimms’ cocktail and even a nutritional “vitaminberry”.

The technology is undoubtedly an ingenious application of 3D printing, and the novelty of seeing isolated gel drops can form into complex shapes is undeniably memorable. Nῡfood faces its biggest challenge is in selling the unorthodox design of its food to the public.

This challenge is one faced by several competitors in what is an increasingly crowded future food market. Companies such as Huel, which makes nutritionally balanced powders to be consumed as protein shakes, and Mealsquares, which offers a meal replacement that appears to be the lovechild of a flatbread and a scone have been on the market for years now, with Huel claiming that its flagship product sold out three times within its first month on the UK market.

Even these relatively successful stories are of companies struggling to move beyond their initial niche audiences which for nῡfood appears to be food savvy tech geeks, and to be seen as more than a fad (tellingly, Huel’s latest product, the Huel Bar, looks a lot like a bog-standard protein bar).

Nῡfood’s promotional video deftly shows off the technology of the robot, but it’s hard to see your average punter swapping out an actual raspberry in favour of a moist blob-berry with the appropriate raspberry flavoured chemicals.

Of course, these purely aesthetic concerns would be assuaged with a taste-test (no one worries about how bad a Greggs pasty looks when they are eating it) and opportunities to do just that are available, with nῡfood embarking on a European wide taste-tour this year. Nῡfood has a lot of hurdles to jump to reach success, but the proof will be in the (3D printed) pudding.