In the fictional world of “Star Trek,” replicators create food without incident for the crew. But how does that apply to your lunch? As Gawker reports, experts at Cornell University’s Computational Synthesis Lab (CCSL) are working on a commercial 3-D food printer that will enable users to print meals off the Internet using raw-food ink syringes.  

Will the printer replace a kitchen stove in the future? It's possible that this food printer, called a “FabApp,” may do just that. Using raw-food “inks” set up in syringes, a specialized printer creates cookies, pie and other treats. Gawker reports that the food list is currently limited to ingredients that can be extracted from a syringe. Researchers have had success with chocolate, cake and cookies. But they think the machine could be developed to create customized menus for “fussy” customers — or that the world's great chefs could share their patented recipes for download.

Dr. Jeffrey Ian Lipton is the lead on the Cornell project. As he told the BBC, "FabApps would allow you to tweak your food's taste, texture and other properties. Maybe you really love biscuits, but want them extra flaky. You would change the slider and the recipe and the instructions would adjust accordingly." Lipton and his team hope that the machine — part of a larger Fab@home project, an open source collaboration — would be as common as a toaster in the kitchen of the future.

Others have focused on the environmental benefits of printable foods. Homaro Cantu is chef and owner of the Moto Restaurant in Chicago. As he told the BBC, "You can imagine a 3-D printer making homemade apple pie without the need for farming the apples, fertilizing, transporting, refrigerating, packaging, fabricating, cooking, serving and the need for all of the materials in these processes like cars, trucks, pans, coolers, etc."

How does the printer work? As the BBC reports, the current design instructs the printer to deposit line after line of food ink according to a blueprint. Then it functions as a regular printer would, including the touch of a button to determine how many copies it should make. Lipton and his team want to expand the printer to work with hydrocolloids, which are edible substances that mix with water to form a gel.

Ultimately, Lipton and his team say their creation may have a big impact on social networking. If people are able to share and “improve upon” their creations, they say there’s no telling what this innovation will do for food production. In the end, it may not be only kitchens that are affected; experts are also working on the ability to download furniture and other goods.

For further reading: