From Pixel to Plate
Published in Food Science & Technology on Vol 32, Issue 2, June 2018
Vaiva Kalnikaitė of Dovetailed explores how 3D food printing can be used to create and enhance multisensory dining experiences.
Beyond personalisation, digital tools can elevate and change our perceptions of food by influencing how we perceive the taste, look and smell of what we eat.
Everyone has an opinion on food. We all have our favourite foods, comfort foods and adventure foods. Despite all this enthusiasm and interest however, the kitchen space has remained relatively unchanged, especially in terms of technological innovation. We still have microwaves and food processors, but digital technologies have not really made it into people’s homes yet.
The culture of food preparation and consumption is changing. Different edible materials and techniques can be used to create multi-dimensional food experiences. In this article we will explore how 3D printing can be used to enable multisensory dining.
We connect through food. Some love cooking and sharing food, and most of us love consuming it. But with our busy lifestyles, we have less time for cooking and less time to think about nutrition and the health benefits of the foods we consume. Additionally, pressures on our free time give us fewer opportunities to explore and enjoy our food.
We eat for both necessity and pleasure . We seek out new experiences with food that are different, intriguing and unexpected. We find thrills in the flavours of dishes themselves. The context and tools that we use for eating all matter. According to Charles Spence, a psychologist and gastrophysicist from Oxford University, eating is a multisensory experience . Food very nearly always stimulates all our senses: the sight, sounds and aroma as food is prepared, how the food looks, tastes and smells once it is ready, how it feels in your mouth, even the painful burn or tingling associated with some foods after you have eaten.
With multisensory dining, we aim to broaden our enjoyment beyond the taste itself to include sight, sound, touch and smell so that we are fully immersed in the experience as we eat. We can use digital technologies to design fuller sensory experiences, such as 3D printing, where we can create different shapes, textures and even introduce aromas as part of the process.
Digitisation can help us personalise our nutrition, so we produce and consume just the amount of food that we want. Making food on demand in a portion of any size is very appealing if we want to reduce our carbon footprint and overall waste. Similarly, we can also enable positive changes to the production and delivery process as 3D printing can use fruit and vegetables that are juiced or pressed. This reduces wastage and is cheaper and easier to store and transport. 3D printers in our homes can then essentially ‘reconstruct’ food from this juice or puree.
From a multisensory perspective, we could also reconstruct our source food into something else, for example convert a strawberry into a snozzberry .
Dovetailed, a design studio and innovation laboratory, has been exploring how 3D food printing can be used to digitise food . It has been exploring how to design small morsels that are edible but where shape, taste, texture and aroma can be controlled. It has designed and built a printer that can make small, but juicy and delicious, flavour bites. Using a smartphone app we can design whatever our imagination can come up with, press a button and then have, for example, a cloudberry that tastes like a passion fruit in only a minute.
3D printing is not a new technology, but in recent times it has increasingly been applied in the field of nourishment. In traditional 3D printing techniques, melted plastic is used to build items, but for 3D food printing food materials are used as building blocks instead. 3D food printers can now print with edible materials, such as chocolate, cream, marzipan and various fruit or vegetable purees and even alcohol.
Dovetailed has developed nūfood, a 3D food printing robot designed to be used in the everyday kitchen to accessorise meals and drinks. Its patent pending technology, called ‘berrification’, allows encapsulation of any edible liquid. It extends modernist cooking techniques to create 3D edible shapes out of any edible liquid. These liquid infused capsules are full of intense flavours and connect to create 3D structures. Therefore, in one structure, nūfood can create multiple layers that burst and release these intense flavours when bitten.
3D printing can be used as a way to separate flavour, aroma, shape and texture and use them as individual aspects for design. For example, unwanted aromas associated with a dish can be replaced with new ones designed to deliver specific food experiences. Similarly, flavour, shapes and textures can be personalised.
Food thrill seeking
Food thrill seeking leads to the exploration of new tastes and environments. In London alone, there has been a proliferation of pop-up restaurants that boast unusual food experiences that go beyond taste. These range from drinking wine through straws that are metres long or eating in the sky while your chair is suspended 100ft up in the air by a crane . Dovetailed has been exploring how to represent and moderate emotions through taste and shape, for example by printing flavour bites that lift peoples’ moods. We are continuing to research this area, so that we can better understand how different aspects of food and flavour can potentially fine-tune our emotional wellbeing.
Food is a glue that brings people together. We enjoy experiences where food is served in a new and interesting environment, for example Edible Cinema  in London, where you receive a tray with numbered boxes containing food before the film starts. Then throughout the film, you are prompted to open different boxes and eat the contents to enhance the scene. It not only engages your sense of sight and sound, but also your taste-buds. A curator can now elevate the fear in a horror movie through adding taste and smell.
For fine-tuned multisensory dining, the Gastrophysics chef’s table by Jozef Youssef uses sounds and lays food out on a plate in a way that influences the intensity of the flavour of each dish. Inspired by Charles Spence’s research, it aims to change the perception of taste by pairing music with the right food or uses colour as seasoning to elevate our taste experience .
For food thrill seekers, chefs and mixologists can design and prepare tasty nibbles. But if you’re keen to try to create the experience yourself and explore, then using 3D food printing technology to create multisensory meals can open up new options. 3D food printing can release flavours at just the right time to make the experience count, the intension being that any experience can be elevated through taste, smell and visual presentation. 3D printing robots enable that delivery to be effortless and fun.
New digitally-enabled 3D printing technologies are allowing us to explore different food experiences and be creative. They allow experimentation with the perception of taste and smell in the comfort of our own home. Imagine making an apple that smells like an orange, but when you bite into it you taste a tomato?
3D printed food is a great asset for exploratory cooks, allowing a new, digital way of cooking. 3D food printers are allowing us to be chefs and mixologists in our homes, creating new dining experiences that influence our perception of taste and creating multisensory dining through curated aromas and presentation.
In the future, 3D printers will support our desire to prepare and cook food in exciting ways, helping to make healthy eating simple. These machines will become more and more sophisticated over time, allowing for the creation of multidimensional textures, flavours and aromas in a single bite.
This technology can also personalise our cooking by making use of the data we have been collecting about ourselves through various trackers and lifelogging. For example, data about our physical activity or our sleep could influence the design of daily bites packed with all the nutrition essential for keeping us going physically.
Digital technologies will help us to design food that cheers us up or evokes good memories. It will also allow us to make food for ourselves and others remotely. For example, could sending an instruction to your loved one’s 3D printer to print a strawberry heart replace sending a bunch of flowers? In the future, will we send edible versions of a text emoji, or Flavour-moji’s, to express our feelings?
 Morten L Kringelbach, The pleasure of food: underlying brain mechanisms of eating and other pleasures in Flavour 2015.
 Charles Spence & Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, The Perfect Meal: the multisensory science of food and dining by Wiley Blackwell 2015
 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willy_Wonka retrieved on 11.05.2018
 nūfood 3D liquid printer –– www.nufood.io retrieved on 07.05.2018
 London in the sky - https://www.foodism.co.uk/eat/london-in-the-sky-2018 retrieved on 11.05.2018
 Edible Cinema - http://ediblecinema.co.uk retrieved on 11.05.2018
 Gastrophysics Chef’s Table - https://gastrophysics.co.uk retrieved on 07.05.2018