• Wasabi included. (Open Meals)Source: Open Meals
It looks like something straight out of a video game, but you can actually eat it.
Audrey Bourget

27 Mar 2018 - 1:48 PM  UPDATED 27 Mar 2018 - 1:47 PM

Japanese company Open Meals was the talk of the South by Southwest (SXSW) tradeshow in Austin, Texas, earlier this month, because it showcased a 3D printer that made “8-bit sushi”.

How does it work?

Open Meals and its collaborators have created what they call the Food Base, a digital platform storing information (taste, texture, colour, shape and nutrients) about different foods. “The Food Base is a food version of iTunes. All meals will be digitally stored in the database,” Takashi Koyama tells SBS Food. Koyama is from Dentsu, an ad agency working with Open Meals.

Their Pixel Food Printer uses information from the Food Base to create the piece of sushi. “Water drips down from the top and along the way, flavours, nutrients and colours are added in. It prints out the pixel cubes at the bottom,” says Koyama.

At the moment, the blocks are quite big (5mm), but the company intends to make them smaller and smaller until the food looks more realistic.

What about the taste?

So is it like eating a creation straight out of Jiro Dreams of Sushi? The answer is, no, or at least, not yet. “The taste is still under development, but we're sure it will improve eventually,” claims Koyama. “We've started talking to some jelly experts and food companies. If we focus on sushi, we could achieve something good within a year or two.”

Is 3D-printed food really happening?

We’ve been hearing about 3D-printed food for a while. There’s even a 3D-printed restaurant in London.

But most food printers work differently than the Open Meals versions. Instead of making pixels, they produce layers of pureed ingredients, generating one layer at a time. So if a printer like the Foodini makes a pizza, it has to form the dough first, then the sauce, then the cheese.

In Australia, 3dChef uses 3D printers to create sugar pieces and edible plate designs.

Why not just eat normal food?

We’re not saying we’ll let go of our favourite sushi restaurant just yet, but food printing could have many benefits.

The gels by Open Meals can be personalised, to help athletes or sick people get all the nutrients they need.

"The taste is still under development, but we're sure it will improve eventually … If we focus on sushi, we could achieve something good within a year or two.”

You could finally have the equivalent of a bluefin tuna nigiri without depleting the ocean or a steak without killing a cow. The printer could also be used in parts of the world where it’s impossible to get certain types of food, and allow astronauts to make pizza in space.

Open Meals sees many more utilities for its Food Base and printer, like preserving traditional recipes, generating food from a cooking show at home and selling meals on memory cards.

For now, the Pixel Food Printer is only a prototype, but the company hopes to turn the attention it received at SXSW into partnerships to push the project further.

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