3D printing food: The best Thanksgiving hot-melt extrusion you've ever tasted

As has been the tradition for the past 30 years now, I am spending my Thanksgiving morning here in The Herald-Mail Media test kitchen, taking last minute calls and offering tips for a flawless holiday spread.

Except I am not at Herald-Mail Media offices this morning, I am on the 10th floor of Twitter, where some fellow “hardcore” engineers and I are crawling out of our sleeping bags after 90 seconds of sleep and getting back to work.

Nor are we in a kitchen. We are in a dust free, hermetically sealed room full of computer servers and other blinking light technology in order to reveal the latest culinary advancement: 3D food printing.

Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

Yes, you have heard about 3D printing, that dazzling advancement of human brilliance and enlightenment that allows a handful of plastic pellets to be transformed into an undetectable handgun suitable for subway muggings.

Now that very same technology can be used as well to print food that is healthy, delicious and will not show up in a metal detector.

According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, “Numerous concerns include food quality, nutritional value, climate change, environmental impacts, and having enough to feed everyone. These growing concerns about global food security and sustainability, as well as consumer demands for customized food products, have led to the adoption of new technologies, including 3D printing (of) food.”

Are you tracking with me here? This could solve the greatest problem faced by every home chef: How to produce a pleasing, orderly and traditional holiday meal for 30 family members while drunk.

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According to the engineers, “3D printing is an ideal technology for food manufacturing because it can produce 3D constructs with complex geometries, complex textures, enhanced nutrition, and realistic flavors.”

Because that’s what you want in a festive meal: realistic. You want guests coming up and saying, “Thank you Edna, I don’t think I’ve ever had a Thanksgiving dinner that tasted quite that plausible.”

Materials for 3D-printed food are ordinary food ingredients — water, oil, flour, butter and eggs — and are appetizingly known as “food ink.” And forget braising, roasting and frying, the new food preparation processes have names like “selective sintering, selective hot air sintering and melting, liquid binding or binder jetting, and hot-melt extrusion.”

So this could be the next step in a world where even cooking shows (cooking shows!) are angry and confrontational. The host can destroy a contestant by screaming, “Look at those sweet potatoes; you call that a hot-melt extrusion?” before shooting her with lasers.

But do not despair, this is good news for Thanksgiving. Show me a family that is arguing about selective sinterings, and I’ll show you a family that is not arguing about Nancy Pelosi.

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Plus, ladies (I can still call you ladies, right? It’s Thanksgiving and I’m feeling all traditional) 3D food printing should put an end to the lamentation that the “old man” never lifts a finger in the kitchen.

You know how guys are with anything that’s mechanical. Their voices deepen, and they start using words like “aggregate” and “load bearing,” and arguing over which is a better rifle, the 30-30 Winchester or the 30-06 Springfield.

For women who are tired of doing all the work themselves, this could be the greatest gift since the gas grill. I can clearly see a future where a bunch of guys are standing around a laptop shouting, “Who’s ready for another ingot of sweet potatoes?”

Matter a fact, this might be a “careful what you wish for” situation. Do you really want the menfolk in charge of a holiday dinner? Because it will turn competitive — you know that it will — and pretty soon guys will be printing up drumsticks the size of an upright freezer.

And given my experience with printers in general, I’m dubious. Nothing kills a festive mood faster than having to run to Staples for a cartridge of egg whites.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Mechanical engineers tout the benefits of 3D printed food