“Printed” Beverages Are The Newest Fake Food And We’re Not Even Tempted

By Ramsha Afridi··  4 min read
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If you thought the future of food would stop at fake meat, then we have news for you. Printed beverages are the next “fake food.”

Yes, you read that correctly, we could now possibly have printed beverages, thanks to a Bay Area startup, called Cana, which raised $30 million in January to bring its “molecular beverage printer” to life.

Print Me a Drink, Please

The Cana One device can make thousands of beverages such as cocktails, iced coffee and iced tea, and juices, with its specialty being cocktails, by using an ingredient cartridge. 

It will be the world’s first molecular beverage printer and will be able to make “any beverage, anytime” according to its official website

How does this work? How can you “print” a coffee or a mimosa? Well, every beverage is mostly water. Only about 1% of each drink contains the compounds that make a coffee a coffee or a mimosa a mimosa. Cana has pinpointed the roughly 150 ingredients that make up those compounds (humans can only taste 30-50) and then loaded those ingredients into a cartridge. 

Drinks are about 99% water and 1% differentiating compounds.

When you order a drink from the machine, the cartridge dispenses the appropriate ingredients into water and, presto, in about 30 seconds you have your cabernet sauvignon. The machine also has a CO2 cylinder for carbonated drinks, a cartridge with liquid sugar, and a cartridge with neutral grain alcohol. Not only could you order a cocktail, but you could customize the sweetness and alcohol level.

The technology claims to leave “zero trash” as the cartridges last about a month, or about 200 drinks, and are recyclable. The company prevents more trash by selling the ingredients minus the water in much smaller containers.

Say you’re intrigued. How much would one of these machines set you back? $799. Now, the cartridges are free, but an app tracks and charges you per drink — about $0.29 for a seltzer to $2.99 for a craft cocktail (which is cheaper than going out to a bar or restaurant…except for the upfront cost of the machine).

It’s surely an extraordinary technology, expected to deliver as early as 2023, but do we really know the consequences it will have on our health and wider society?

What Could the Repercussions of Printed Drinks Be?

Printed beverages could be the next big thing – they will supposedly taste just like every other drink and can be made almost instantly at any time. They will even mimic the mouthfeel and smell of all of your favorite beverages (but they won’t be exactly the same).

It could surely be the next big splash in the food start-up industry and could revolutionize how we get our drinks while eating out at restaurants or when socializing at parties with our friends or even just having a quiet evening at home. 

However, do we know the consequences of printed beverages? 

Cana advertises to use “quality ingredients” to “recreate your favorite beverages using the natural ingredients you already know and love, from the molecule up.” But if only the taste-able compounds are used, leaving out potentially hundreds of other compounds, as in the case with wine, then what are we missing out on? Are the health benefits of red wine (the ones that we know about at least) contained in the flavor profile or excluded? We don’t know every pro and con to every compound in every beverage, so who’s to say that you’re actually consuming the ones that are beneficial for you? 

Can the Western diet really afford another tampered with food item?

Another issue is how printed beverages could disrupt the drink industry, all the way down to family-owned businesses, like vineyards. That might seem extreme, considering the Cana machine isn’t even available to purchase yet, but consider an analogous situation – the fake meat industry. Big money has decided that plant-based “meat” is better for the environment and for people, so people like Bill Gates have thrown their money behind it. But fake meat is less healthy for humans than actual meat and small organic farms are being negatively impacted.

Food technology companies are innovating at an unprecedented rate, and printed beverages are completely new products on the market. The idea of having unique, creative beverage items presented to us in a heartbeat, on-demand is an attractive initiative. However, it’s too soon to say this invention is actually better than our current drink situation.

Closing Thoughts

We live in a world where our food supply is already full of toxins, with an array of unhealthy ingredients and cheap raw materials dominating our food supply. Our Western diets are already focused on processed or fried foods, refined grains, and sugary products. Can our mornings really afford to drink fake, printed coffee and tea? 

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