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The killer app of 3D printing: Snacks

Researchers at Columbia University have developed a 3D printer that can cook and fabricate food.

3D food printers have been able to create very basic food items, such as sugar sculptures and very simple pizzas -- but now a team of researchers at Columbia University has developed a machine that can make more complex snacks.

The 3D printer, which has been in development for a year, will hopefully be able to cook and combine pastes, gels, powders and liquid ingredients into delicately designed hors d'oeuvres.

"Food printers are not meant to replace conventional cooking -- they won't solve all of our nutritional needs, nor cook everything we should eat," said roboticist Hod Lipson, in whose lab the printer was developed, in a statement.

"But they will produce an infinite variety of customised fresh, nutritional foods on demand, transforming digital recipes and basic ingredients supplied in frozen cartridges into healthy dishes that can supplement our daily intake. I think this is the missing link that will bring the benefits of personalised data-driven health to our kitchen tables -- it's the 'killer app' of 3D printing."

The printer arm can accommodate eight frozen food cartridges. The next step is integrating a heating element that cooks the food, applying different temperatures to different ingredients as required, which is controlled by custom software. By the end of the year, the team hopes to have the prototype working more accurately.