Wandering through the shelves of plastic and whirring machinery that is the Inside 3D Printing Expo, held this week at New York City's Javits Center, I happened upon something I was desperately lacking: food. It wasn't the life-sustaining, grease-infused sort of stuff that my stomach was telling me I needed, but it was edible and I was hungry.
What found was a pair of intertwined hollow cubes; one was green and yellow, and the other red and orange. They were not, you might imagine, the most obviously comestible foodstuffs. Still, there they sat on a tray, shoulder to shoulder with other impossible shapes — all of which were edible. It took a bit of coaxing, but after the woman in line before me asked seven separate times if the tray of "candies" were truly edible, receiving a nod each time, I decided to go for it.
The taste of the little squares was at once familiar and foreign. They were like Pixie Stix with a bit of syrup. They crumbled immediately once I popped them in my mouth, but then hung around on the surface of my tongue as a paste of sour apple goodness. Still, the experience wasn't entirely pleasant. Much like an over-eager kid, I ate the second of my 3D printed cubes too quickly, inhaling the dry, sour substance and causing myself to cough. A few gulps of water fixed that right up, but do beware.
Your average 3D printer can print in plastics or metals and sometimes even a sort of pulpy wood. The ChefJet from 3DSystems, from which my little sugary rainbow cubes came, prints instead in sugar, chocolate and fondant. Thin layers of the stuff are bound together with flavored syrup, which allows you to create basically any shape and flavor combo you'd like in your 3D printed desserts.
Currently, the ChefJet and it's larger brother the ChefJet Pro are the only food printers for sale, and they're designed for people who have a bakery or a candy shop. The printers start around $10,000 and can print out confections as big as a cake or a life-size human head. But this is just the beginning for the ChefJet. 3DSystems is already looking into a next-gen 3D food printer that can handle anything from chocolates to beef and veggies. Smaller models are also in early development, which could be find their way onto the kitchen counters of the 2020s. Just remember to clean the gristle off the print head before you print up a batch of bon-bons.
While I got to try out the bite-sized 3D candy, there were larger 3D-printed "sculptures" that were also edible (but nobody was allowed to try them). Here's what the edible art of the future looks like: