It's a Jetsons-esque idea that someday we could press a button and out would pop a personalized meal, but that doesn't mean it's far off. As part of an EU-funded project called PERFORMANCE, due for completion in 2015, researchers are developing a process for 3D printing customized food to improve the quality of life for the elderly.
The population is getting older with every year, so more services are needed to meet the elderly's needs, especially in terms of food; older people are more susceptible to malnutrition because they have more difficulty chewing and swallowing.
"[Those in nursing homes] often receive unattractive, porridge-like food, seven days a week," Matthias Kück, CEO of German food company Biozoon, told youris.com. But "meals are socially important for elderly people." The project partners therefore want to prepare "food in such a way, that these people are able to eat safely and even enjoy their meals."
So how would it work? You purée the fresh ingredients of your choice, put it in the printer, and then the printer would print it out in the shape of your choosing, combining it with a secret substance. This "Smoothfood" would hold its solid form but melt when introduced into the mouth.
According to Sandra Forstner, project manager at Biozoon, food would print layer by layer, allowing for a variety of forms. Plus, manufacturers would be able to enrich the foods with any kind of nutrient they want. "Thus, we can personalize the food, for example in terms of caloric content or serving size to avoid malnutrition," Forstner said.
Right now, the project researchers are trying to find out how to make whole foods like meat and vegetables printable, which would be very interesting technology to observe. And we shouldn't have to wait too long: A prototype of the printer will be available at the end of the project in 2015.
Only one question remains: Would elderly people even be willing to eat the food? Printable meals are certainly an unconventional idea — something that would take a lot of getting used to — but if welcomed by those in nursing homes, it could potentially help the frail maintain their health well into their golden years.