An interview with Dr. Helga Gruber, research and development manager at Print2Taste
Have you ever stood in front of the cakes and candies in a store and wished that your own attempts to decorate cakes were even half as successful as the products on display? Well now there’s help on hand for would-be confectioners – thanks to 3D food printing. Dr. Helga Gruber, research and development manager at Print2Taste, who also took part in the third #techourfuture event on The Future of Nutrition as an expert participant, talked to TRANSFER magazine about how this technique was developed, where it is already in use, and what the future holds for 3D food printing. She strongly believes that a foundation of communication and information on new technology will be crucial for gaining public acceptance.
Hello Dr. Gruber. Food at the touch of a button. Lots of people dream of this happening one day, and you’re making their dream come true. How did you and your partners come up with the idea of a 3D food printer?
Our startup team comprises food technologists with extensive knowledge and practical experience in the properties and processing of a whole variety of foods. When the first 3D printers started entering the plastics industry, we were immediately inspired to use the same technology to model food. As pioneers in this area, we developed the world’s first 3D food printer – Procusini – and honed it until it was ready to be commercialized. The fact that we were able to implement it so quickly is mainly down to our in-depth understanding of the composition of food, which is the key to success with 3D food printing.
Where are your 3D food printers currently being used, and in which other areas do you envisage them being used in the future?
Our 3D food printers are already being used commercially by food and catering experts, bakeries, and candy stores – but also in private households. Chefs working in professional kitchens use the Procusini to add the finishing touches to their creations with individualized, edible 3D objects, and bakeries use it to decorate cakes. Amateur cooks at home use the mycusini chocolate printer to produce small creative treats from 3D chocolate. We will make increasing use of the possibilities offered by 3D food printing in the future, especially to personalize food in terms of composition, shape, and texture. Depending on requirements, it will be possible to produce small snacks at home, and restaurants and catering companies will even be able to produce entire meals using 3D food printing.
Just like almost all new technology, some people are skeptical when it comes to 3D food printing, if not suspicious. How do you deal with their concerns?
Of course for many, it’s completely new territory and it’s difficult to imagine what 3D food printing actually means. That’s totally normal, especially given the way we all relate differently as individuals to food; we all have certain habits and preferences.
For us, the important message is that this new technology uses foodstuffs that are no different in terms of composition to the sort of products you find in grocery stores. We’re happy to offer people live demonstrations of how individual foods are created with the Procusini or mycusini and are formed into different shapes. When this process is experienced directly by the people, skepticism quickly turns into enthusiasm.
How important do you think it is to offer people information on future technologies for them to become accepted by society? And what’s the best way to ensure society absorbs this information?
For society to embrace new technology, it’s tremendously important to show how things work in functional terms – really early during development – and to show the opportunities they offer and the impact they have. All technology has to convince people by its application options and benefits.
Technologies often go through different phases when they enter the market. So with the mycusini 3D chocolate printer, it’s already become the new standard for lots of amateur confectioners, since the shapes it offers go beyond the current realms of manual dexterity and silicone molds.
Here’s another example: According to some studies in care homes, personalized food allows you to significantly improve the nutrition offered to people with chewing and swallowing difficulties. When you know that, there’s already broad acceptance of the future prospects offered by 3D food printing, especially in terms of improving care and the quality of life for people in this group.
To share such information with the general public – in a way that’s easy to understand – it’s important to find a format that opens the door to direct dialog. Of course it’s also important to use the right social media channels to reach out to as many people as possible.