3D printer can print 'fruit'

A 3D printer uses 3D printing combined with molecular gastronomy to create 3D "fruits" in a matter of minutes.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

A 3D-printed strawberry created using the 3D Fruit Printer Les Wilson/Dovetailed

We've seen 3D-printed chocolate, 3D-printed sugar sculptures, even 3D-printed pizza -- but one thing we never thought to see on that list is fruit. That is, however, exactly what one company claims to have done.

The Cambridge, UK-based company Dovetailed has invented and unveiled what it is calling the 3D Fruit Printer, a machine that "prints" three-dimensional "fruit". It is not, however, actual fruit: instead, it's a sort of reconstituted version that can be any flavour.

The printer uses a molecular gastronomy technique called spherification for converting liquid to a series of gelatinous globules resembling caviar or tapioca pearls. For fruit juice, this means mixing the juice with alginic acid. This mixture is then dripped into a cold bath of calcium chloride; the resultant reaction produces a skin around the ball of liquid, which pops when you bite into it (although you should really rinse it off first).

The "printer", then, is probably closer to a mixing machine, allowing you to make "pearls" of any low-calcium liquid, which can then be eaten; it cannot, for example, print an apple in the shape of an apple, but instead produces pearls of apple juice. By mixing juices, you can create new flavours; apple and raspberry, for example.

What it can do is combine the globules into a combined mass that resembles a raspberry -- and by tweaking this technique, the Dovetailed team may be able to create objects that do look more like an apple or other type of fruit.

"Our 3D fruit printer will open up new possibilities not only to professional chefs but also to our home kitchens -- allowing us to enhance and expand our dining experiences," said Dovetailed founder Vaiva Kalnikaitė. "We have re-invented the concept of fresh fruit on demand."

The 3D Fruit Printer was unveiled on 24 May at TechFoodHack, an "experimental food hackathon" held in Cambridge and co-organised by Dovetailed and Microsoft Research.