Sugar Selfies

In His Own Sweet Image

Sweet shop kids Katjes Paul Aidan Perry
Children watch as sweets are made.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The 3D printing revolution could be applied to address hunger in the world.

  • Facts


    • Customers at the Magic Candy Factory can mix and match colors, flavors and shapes to create a personalized sweet treat for €5.
    • Other companies including Barilla pastas, Hershey chocolates and the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn already are working their own versions of 3D printers.
    • The 3D printing revolution could help solve world hunger by allowing combinations of common materials such as algae, duckweed, mealworms and other insects into a nutritious, appetising food.
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Berliners are in for a treat. The Magic Candy Factory offers those with a sweet tooth a unique experience – 3D printed sweets.

Last week Katjes, the confectionery manufacturer from Emmerich on the Rhine, opened a new store and café on a side street near the Hackescher Höfe, a network of pretty courtyards much beloved by tourists in the Mitte district.

There, using three iPads, customers can create their own personally designed concoctions. The sweets might look, for example, like a strawberry, a flower, a heart or a butterfly. And it might taste like lemon, raspberry, mango or apple. It can even be decorated with glitter.

The order then goes into a food product 3D printer located behind a large glass plate. A server puts a kind of syringe into the machine, where the chosen fruit gum mix is placed. The warmed mass spills out of a fine nozzle, layer-by-layer, for five minutes or less, forming a product that is a few centimeters large and weighs about 10 grams. It comes in a clear gift box with a label customers can design. The price is €5 ($5.62).

It’s a lot of effort compared to the conventional production of sweets, where machines spit out gummy bears and licorice by the thousands, yet the small factory represents a turning point.

In the future, people may be able to prepare meals differently, manufacture their own food products in ways that allow cooks to wow their guests.

Hod Lipson, director of the laboratory for creative machines at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is convinced the breakthrough will occur. “With the progress with 3D printing, a new era is also beginning with individualized food products and meals,” he said.

What sounds like a dream is already an edible reality. In the laboratory, researchers have printed out pancakes, marzipan, chewing gum and even pizzas with toppings. At the Milan World Expo, the Italian pasta maker Barilla unveiled a prototype requiring only two minutes to print a portion of pasta for a dish. Meanwhile, completely new forms are being created such as a rose that can hold tomato sauce. The Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn and the American chocolate manufacturer Hershey also are testing the technology.

“With the progress with 3D printing, a new era is also beginning with individualized food products and meals.”

Hod Lipson, Cornell University

Yet Katjes deserves credit for hygienically creating edible items for the first time that can be sold in a traditional store: a breakthrough in its own right.

The future is already here. At the International consumer electronics fair in Berlin (IFA) which opens Friday, the Taiwanese company XYZ printing will display a 3D printer allowing anyone to design cookies and cake designs before baking. The machine costs $500 (€444.82) in the U.S. and should for sale in Germany by the end of the year, though a price is not yet set. Cartridges of dough to go into the machines cost extra.

The German start-up Print2Taste from Freising near Munich is being closely watched by professional cooks and caterers. The founders, who include experienced food specialists, have further developed the processing technique so their Bocuscini machine can change fruit and vegetables into puree, caramel or marmalade — nearly any food product transformed into a tasty work of art. Again, print-ready compositions are put sold seperately in cartridges.

The Bavarians have had no problem finding investors. Through the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, the founders already have collected far more than the necessary  €30,000 in starting capital. In the coming year, they hope to sell their first printer at prices beginning at about €550.

Naturally, no one can be certain the interest in printed food will survive the initial hype or whether consumers will want to put a food printer next to their espresso machines.

Those worries aren’t stopping the scientists at Dutch research institute TNO, a counterpart to Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, in their efforts. Kjeld van Bommel, one of TNO’s team leaders, thinks this technology could provide the one chance to feed the billions of people on Earth by creating “molecule cocktails” from, for example, algae, duckweed, mealworms and other insects. “Worked into appetizing and tasty cookies, the ingredients probably will no longer frighten anyone,” he said.


Sweet shop Katjes Paul Aidan Perry
Got a sweet tooth? Head to Katjes. Source: Katjes, Paul Aidan Perry


At Katjes, however, initial plans are more modest. Melissa Snover, a New Yorker who is the managing director of Katjes Fassin in England and is responsible for the project, said she wants to place at least 100 fruit gum printers in top department stores worldwide including Harrods in London and Saks 5th Avenue in New York City.

Soon, customers should also be able to order the sweets via the Internet.

She has other ideas, too. Why shouldn’t people be able to rent the sweet machines for birthday parties? “The guests would love it,” she said.


This article first appeared in the newsweekly WirtschaftsWoche. To contact the author:

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