Scientists have used 3D printers to design a range of useful, attractive or downright strange objects. Consumers can purchase 3D-printed bicycle frames and chairs, a replica of Thing from “The Addams Family” and even figurines of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as an octopus or a lobster.
But now, researchers are pushing the already expansive boundaries of 3D printing into another, more delicious realm: cheesecake.
A team recently used a 3D printer to make an edible slice of cake, they reported Tuesday in the journal NPJ Science of Food.
Their printer-friendly recipe requires seven ingredients—graham cracker paste, peanut butter, strawberry jam, Nutella, banana puree, cherry drizzle and frosting. The technology built the slice by squeezing each element out of a syringe in thin lines, forming the layered dessert.
Of course, the success of a cake depends on its taste. Whether or not someone would enjoy this particular slice might depend on their affinity for graham crackers—the graham cracker paste made up more than 70 percent of the dessert.
“When you bite into it, you kind of feel the flavors hit you in different waves,” Jonathan Blutinger, a mechanical engineer at Columbia University and first author of the new paper, tells New Scientist’s Jeremy Hsu. “And I think that’s a function of the layering inside of the actual structure.”
“It definitely tasted like something I hadn’t tried before,” Blutinger tells the Guardian’s Ian Sample, referring to earlier, collapsed attempts at the slice. “I rather enjoyed it, but it’s not a conventional mix. We’re not Michelin chefs.”
Blutinger’s team got the ingredients for their cake from a local convenience store in New York City. The researchers mashed bananas with a fork to create a puree, and they mixed water, butter and graham crackers in a food processor to form the paste.
Early versions of the cake relied on a lot less graham cracker paste—it only made up about a third of the slice in these recipes. But as the printer constructed these early slices, the confections quickly collapsed when layers of wetter ingredients were added.
After several failed attempts, the tech-savvy bakers decided to add layers of graham cracker paste throughout the slice. They created wells from the sturdy, drier ingredients, with walls that were thick on the bottom and thinner on top. Then, they deposited the wetter ingredients inside the wells, so they were supported.
With these changes, the next slices maintained their structural integrity. The final step was using a blue laser to brown the top graham cracker layer. In total, it took 30 minutes to make the slice.
The team’s cheesecake is not the first attempt to make 3D-printed food. One company is working on 3D-printed plant-based meat, while a pop-up restaurant has offered 3D-printed meals, according to CNN’s Jackie Wattles. NASA has been investigating 3D-printed food for astronauts to eat on long trips in space, per USA Today’s Mike Snider.
“The cheesecake is the best thing we can showcase right now, but the printer can do a whole lot more,” Blutinger tells the Guardian. “We can print chicken, beef, vegetables and cheese. Anything that can be turned into a paste, liquid or powder.”
In the future, people might be able to buy 3D printers for cooking in their homes, but the price could run to $1,500, per New Scientist. Crucially, though, these printers would also need recipes to function.
“If this [technology] were to hit the market, it’s like having an iPod without any MP3 files,” Blutinger tells CNN. “So there needs to be a place where you can download recipes, create your own recipes and get some inspiration for what you can actually do with this machine in order for it to really take off in a big way.”
Researchers say in a statement that 3D printing could help with meal planning and might make food more sanitary by reducing human handling of it.
Andrew Feenberg, a philosopher of technology at Simon Fraser University in Canada who did not contribute to the research, doesn’t foresee such devices taking over people’s homes, per the Guardian. “It might turn out to be more useful in restaurants and cafeterias where the loading of ingredients and software programs could be done during slack hours,” he tells the publication.