With 3-D printers coming of age, engineers are starting to expand the possible list of materials they might work with. The early work in food has been in making desserts – a Japanese company lets you order your sweetheart a creepy chocolate 3-D model of their head – but some researchers are already thinking of what comes next. The Fab@Home team at Cornell University has developed gel-like substances called hydrocolloids that can be extruded and built up into different shapes. By mixing in flavoring agents, they can produce a range of tastes and textures.
A 3-D printer could mix vitamins and amino acids into a meal to provide nutrients and boost productivity. There are limitations to the types of fresh foods that can be grown in space – NASA says some of the best crops for a Mars mission are lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes. With that you could make a salad, but a 3-D printer could manufacture croutons or protein-dense supplements. The device could take up less space than a supply of packets of food and, because each item is custom built, would help cut down on waste.