Japanese start-up Open Meals aims to have 3D printed meals in space by 2050

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland

A future food-tech project in Japan is hoping to bring 3D-printed gourmet food to space within the next three decades.

Open Meals, which is supported by the major Japanese advertising company Dentsu, is using 3D printers and base materials to build high-quality, teleportable sushi that will have been made by some of Tokyo’s most highly regarded chefs.

The start-up is working together with Yamagata University and other food manufacturers to build a special 3D food printer. The printer has a water tank, cartridges that are filled with food tastes, colours, and nutrients. A gel-like ingredient is also used to create textures that resemble the same textures as sushi.

Open Meals was founded in 2016 by Ryosuke Sakaki, the art director at Dentsu’s Creative Planning Division 3. By bringing together a group of researchers and businesses, he aims to change the future of food, by finding new ways to digitise it through innovative technologies such as 3D food printing.

After being inspired by colour inkjet printers that can create posters and photographs from four colours, Sakaki applied the same approach to food. He picked sweet, sour, salty, and bitter tastes, and added various seasonings such as soy source and vinegar into ink cartridges. The printing process was then tested on edible corn paper. Using different ratios of seasonings resulted in a change in the taste, and after collecting these ratios in a database to create specific flavours of specific meals, this printing technique is now being tested out to manufacture different types of foods.

A couple of issues that the team still must overcome before their food printing technology can be used commercially include the speed of the current printing machine. A recent report from Nikkei Asia revealed it takes 20 to 30 minutes for one piece of sushi to be made using the 4D food printer. The machine also currently only produces droplets of ‘ink’ at 5mm in diameter, which is not small enough to create the shape of sushi. Ongoing tests and developments are being carried out to create the ideal food printing machine.

According to Nikkei Asia, Sakaki wants to present the new 3D food printer at Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan. He has also said he believes this new way of producing food will become the standard by 2030.

3D printing is a growing technology in the food industry, with the world’s first 3D printed Wagyu beef steak being created using bovine stem cells earlier this year by scientists at Osaka University.

The Israeli brand Redefine Meat also launched a 3D printed plant-based meat range in restaurants and hotels in the country in 2021.

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