Cornucopia: Digital Gastronomy - could 3D printing be the next revolution in cooking?
By Loz Blain
January 14, 2010
Wouldn't it be great to have a digital food machine sitting in your kitchen that could create any dish, real or imagined, from scratch at the touch of a button? Cornucopia: Digital Gastronomy is a concept design that uses the well-established principles of 3D printing - plus precisely timed and temperature-controlled mixing and cooking - to open the door to a virtually limitless realm of replicable, creative cuisine in shapes and combinations that are simply impossible using our current, centuries-old cooking techniques. It's a wonderful look into the future of cooking, from the creative food lover's perspective.
We see all sorts of home gadgetry here at Gizmag, but I think it's fair to say that there hasn't been a truly revolutionary invention in the world of cooking since the microwave oven - and those started popping up in homes more than 40 years ago. Otherwise, we're still frying, casseroling, baking, pressure cooking, roasting, barbecuing, steaming and grilling our dinners in much the same way as we have done for hundreds of years.
For many, the simple and precise application of heat, fire, metal and various different ingredients has become a fine art - but surely we're overdue for a technological overhaul in the kitchen that might open up some new possibilities.
The Cornucopia: Digital Gastronomy concept design is an ingenious attempt to turn the cooking process upside down, open up a whole range of new creative possibilities and bring creative cooking into a new and replicable phase for the information age.
Cornucopia builds up edible creations using a layering process similar to some of the 3D printing machines we've been writing about recently, except that it uses a variety of different foodstuffs instead of plastics to build up its final product.
The printing head moves on a 3D axis, and extrudes precisely mixed and measured quantities of different ingredients from the canisters on top of the machine. Ingredients can be mixed as they come through the printing head, which is also able to precisely temperature-control the mix as it prints using a laser heating and piped cooling system.
The printed food output sits inside a temperature-controlled chamber that finishes the rest of whatever cooking or cooling needs to happen before the dish is done, and the device lets you know when it's time to eat.
The ingredient canisters are refillable or automatically re-orderable, and provide constant feedback on stock levels or ingredients that are going out of date as well as offering smart alternatives if you're low on something.
The Cornucopia system is one of the first genuine attempts we've seen to produce a machine that can make virtually any dish given the right set of instructions. Sure, it's not going to print you a medium rare steak, but it can reliably and replicably build all sorts of elaborate and complex combinations, precisely mixed and temperature-controlled, that would be near impossible to create using any other cooking process.
Every dinner can be calorie controlled and nutritionally balanced, there's minimal wastage, and a dietician or doctor's orders can be turned into a number of simple recipe files that can be saved, downloaded and used to create food through the whole week.
It might all sound a bit mechanical and soulless - but then, part of what the Cornucopia is about is a love of new and different food combinations that can't be made using any other technique, and an encouragement to experiment with 3D recipe design, refining, sharing and selling recipes to other 3D food printer users around the world. Digital chefs are bound to get very creative with how they use this sort of machine - and once they do, you just need to screw the right canisters into your machine and run their recipe file to sample the results.
I'd love to see this sort of machine get off the ground and into the hands of some gastronomical wizards - the potential for new flavours, textures and presentations is enormous - and the digital kitchen concept would mark a truly revolutionary step forward. Well done to designers Marcelo Coelho and Amit Zoran, and we hope to see Cornucopia make it through to prototype and production in the near future.