UK Researchers Use 3D Printing to Evoke Sensory Food Experiences


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Food 3D printer

Food and water are necessary for humans to survive, no matter what, but they are also often a source of enjoyment too, leading to the questioning adage of whether some of us eat to live—or live to eat. But what about eating to reinforce sentimental moments, and to improve your memory? UK researchers studied the connection between food and memory cues in ‘Tip of my Tongue: Eating for Cognition,’ using 3D printing to create their epicurean samples.

Just like a certain smell or item can invoke strong emotional recollections, so can different foods. The researchers study and discuss memory cues offered by food, with a focus on food as an ‘interactive design.’

“Given food’s unique qualities as a material, it has a wide potential to connect and interact with our sensory and cognitive performance,” state the researchers in their paper, as they go on to focus on how food could offer certain cues, along with ‘scene-setting for conscious reflection and appraisal.’

Obviously, food is a part of our daily life—and for some, eating may occur every few hours—or even less. While we all have different outlooks and attitudes regarding food, especially with such a cultural focus on weight loss and obsession with having ‘the perfect body,’ one thing is common: food experiences are ‘deeply embedded’ in our lives. Despite that though, the researchers comment on the frustration that still, data regarding the human connection to food and cognitive function has eluded scientists because of the ‘difficulty of delivering chemical stimuli’ throughout the physical (and interactive) experience.

“With the advent of novel food production technology such as 3D food printing there is a possibility to utilize food as a way of constructing novel interactive bodily experiences,” state the researchers.

While smells have a substantial impact on us leading up to the experience of consuming food, taste is even more important to us—and contributes to many of the emotional ties we have to food. The researchers posit that because of this memory cues play a large role.

“Tastes have also been shown to shape the way we perceive the world, making people both less harsh (after tasting a sweet taste) and more harsh (after bitter tastes) in moral judgments,” states the research team. “One of the challenges that has limited the exploration of these two sets of connections and the potential for taste to shape our in-bodied experience has been the one of synthesizing stimuli for taste and smell.”

They see 3D printing as bringing humans closer to both the eating experience and digital technology, asserting that rather viewing it as an apparatus to ‘automate’ the dining experience, we should envision it more correctly as a method for shaping new experiences. The researchers are also hopeful that with the continued advent of 3D printing, more ‘mindful’ food consumption will occur—especially as they see 3D printers becoming common at the home desktop, connected to the smartphone and controlled by mobile apps.

Along with this process, the researchers see users being more fully supported in remembering a special moment. This could be important for all of us, but especially so for the senior population, who may have declining memories. Food could prompt memories, from childhood to more recently.

 “Additionally, the potential for taste to inform judgments could allow a user to consciously augment their judgments through food stimuli, choosing to consider more or less harsh judgments as suited the context,” state the researchers. “This could be of particular use in self-reflection where prompts to either appreciate the qualities of a piece of work or to help detect any room for improvement can be difficult. One constant aspect across both memory and judgement applications would be the agency of a user in controlling the elicitation of such food-based experiences thus placing them as director of experience, rather than passively consuming food.”

Such systems, with a focus on eating and cognition, would center around tying smells to ‘episodic memories,’ with specific combinations for each user. The researchers suggest a tool for invoking a cognitive response drawn from the sensory experience, including meditation regarding how they feel about what food they have eaten.

“By necessity this will require systems to be built that support the user in directing and tailoring their experience.

“In this proposal we have described the influence of odor and taste arising from food stimuli on memory recall and judgement making, these draw on just two insights from the psychology into the relationship between sensory food experience and what is happening cognitively,” conclude the researchers. “We hope that these initial proposals can work towards incorporating insights from sociological perspective on what food means and how food can shape experiences, moving beyond the individual and towards collective food interactions.”

Meditative qualities aside, 3D printing and food have become a staple of interest within this innovative new tech industry, catching the attention of consumers around the globe from high-end restaurant fare to sushi—to the most tempting of all with 3D printed chocolate and savory treats. While it may seem futuristic and almost unreal now, to think of 3D printing your breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks, the potential for this new ‘kitchen appliance’ could be vast for users, whether in the home, restaurant, or retail setting.  What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at

[Source / Images: Tip of my Tongue: Eating for Cognition]

Schematic of food as memory cues, showing set-up (top) and use (bottom)

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