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    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

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    Copyright 2008-2015Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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Food that’s fit to print–but is it fit to eat?

It’s the next “brilliant” thing. In the wake of Grant Achatz, Ferran Adrià et al, the now common your-photo-in-icing cake decorations made using an inkjet printer and soy-based and other edible inks have given way to 3D printable food–or at least that’s what the researchers at Cornell are calling it.

Hydrocolloid Printing: A Novel Platform for Customized Food Production (PDF)

Hydrocolloids are suspensions of fine particulates in liquids–in common terms, gels. Also pastes, like cake frosting or masa. Basically uniform goos. The Solid Freeform Fabrication (SFF) unit squirts the stuff through a computer-programmable injector needle onto a platform based on the design you feed in, and it goes in layers so you get an engineered form. Cool, right? Food, any shape you want, and they contend it can be any flavor too.

But it has to be made of goo. And it can’t clog the needle. And it’s not all that new–the Italians have been extruding pasta shapes for over a century. French pastry chefs did all the heavy lifting with choux paste and fondant flowers even longer ago. And in modern times Wilton makes all those fancy-looking metal tips for pastry bags that they sell in the craft chain stores and that will likely be tried out once and then sit forever in the back of your kitchen drawer.

But pastas, pastries and frostings are all about goo as a starting material. These guys are talking about fish.

Most of all, it isn’t all that appetizing, particularly when you see that they’re trying to sell you on a machine that can make what they’d like you to think of as a tomato with a goo composed of 1% gelatin, 8% xanthan gum and some tomato flavoring. Haven’t we had enough of synthetic tomatoes? Isn’t that what the heirloom movement is all about?

Apparently not. Here are the last couple of paragraphs of the paper I linked to above. See what you think.

It should be noted, however, that even if subtle differences are perceptible, it is not necessary in all cases to perfectly reproduce the original food; there is still great value in simulating the original food.

Regardless of whether a hydrocolloid approach is taken to food-SFF, or some other molecular gastronomic platform is employed, the potential future applications of food-SFF remain the same. From culinary professionals to laypeople, individuals from all walks of life will be drastically affected by food-SFF. Artistic boundaries will be pushed in fine dining and industrial producers will explore mass-customization. Laypeople will have housework time reduced and benefit from direct culinary skill injections. Web 2.0 will tackle the next great frontier as people from all over the world experience food in new ways, while forming social bonds and mass-collaborating.

Now that major barriers have been broken, such as high printer cost and proprietary restrictions, the stage is finally set for tremendous growth of food-SFF. Few things are more central to humanity than food, and therefore [it] should come as no surprise when food-SFF gains prominence as one of the 21st century’s important domestic technologies.

excerpted from:

Hydrocolloid Printing: A Novel Platform for Customized Food Production
Daniel L. Cohen, Jeffrey I. Lipton, Meredith Cutler, Deborah Coulter, Anthony Vesco, Hod Lipson

http://creativemachines.cornell.edu/sites/default/files/SFF09_Cohen1_0.pdf, accessed 9/12/11

Now tell me, is this future palatable to you? Or do you somehow, almost inconceivably, not relish the thought of a xanthan gum conglomerate taking over the world’s food supply and driving us fresh-food conspiracists underground? Dan Brown, where are you?

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