In any series of Star Trek using this technology, how are new items--food-related or not--added to the replicator database for future replication? Couldn't find anything on StarTrek.com or the Wikipedia.

Is there an official procedure involving some sort of program where you name and describe what it is before adding a sample? Or is it more of a "here ya go" type of insertion? Can you only give a partial list of ingredients and tell the machine it needs certain extra things to be complete (give it beef, then specify it also needs a bun, lettuce, tomato, and Miracle Whip)?

If there are differences in procedure between generations, I'd like to know those as well.

Don't care about canonicity.

2 Answers 2


The implication is that you can create new dishes from a combination of the 4500 existing ingredients by making a "program"

JANEWAY: Now you tell me. You go for authenticity and what do you get? Second-degree burns. I've been slaving over that replicator programme for hours. What was this bizarre rumour I heard about half the crew on deck five getting pregnant?

VOY: The Voyager Conspiracy

Completely new items can be scanned into the database

MARTUS: I didn't, exactly. I just told the replicator to scan the original and make copies. I think they have some kind of internal power source.

DS9: Rivals

  • Is there a way to label and store it when scanning, or is that a one-time deal for immediate copy purposes? How do you tell it that a hamburger is called a hamburger? Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:02
  • 4
    @SonOfSam - I'm honestly not sure. I would imagine you could just put a (real) hamburger in it and the ship would scan it and produce something that's essentially identical. If you want to get clever and ask it to add a slice of tomato, that's where the programming skill would come into it since you'd need to use ReplicatorShop (like Photoshop, but for replicators) to move the ingredients around to physically make space for it.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:22
  • Never thought I'd hear someone say that adding a tomato was considered clever. :) I'm surprised this hasn't been touched on in the shows at least once, considering how often it's used. It seems like we'd've seen it even in the background. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:31
  • 6
    @SonOfSam - Any fool can download a simple "Hamburger Wireframe" for Blender Modeling Software, but if you want to do something as adding an extra slice of cheese, it takes hours (if not days) to learn how to do it.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:45
  • 1
    @sonofsam You just tell it. Federation computers have amazing natural language processing capability.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 14:34

It's often mentioned that foods can be programmed into the replicator, but never (to my knowledge) with details as to how that programming takes place. In addition to @Valorum's quote, there's an instance in "Lessons" where Nella programs several varieties of tea into the replicator.

NELLA: Earl Grey? No wonder you can't sleep. Computer, bring replicators back online and give me a cup of Daren herbal tea blend number three, hot. You shouldn't be drinking a stimulant at this time of night. I think you'll like this.
NELLA: I've programmed seven other blends into the replicator. You're bound to like one of them.
PICARD: I look forward to sampling them.

The Next Generation Transcripts - Episode Listings, "Lessons"

We do, however, have some idea how holographic programs are made. Were we to enter the realm of conjecture, we might note that:

Holographic programs could be stored on holodeck databases. ... These databases often contained many stock elements that could be called up by a user to design new holographic programs, such as particular eating establishments, famous cities, and characters.

Holographic Program - Memory Alpha

We also see characters creating and modifying holodeck programs through verbal interaction:

JANEWAY: Computer, display Fair Haven character Michael Sullivan. Adjust his parameters to the following specifications. Give him the education of a nineteenth century third year student at Trinity College.
COMPUTER: Modification complete.
JANEWAY: Now, access the character's interactive subroutines. Make him more provocative.
COMPUTER: Specify.
JANEWAY: Give him a more complicated personality.
COMPUTER: Specify.
JANEWAY: More outspoken, more confident, not so reserved. And make him more curious about the world around him.
COMPUTER: Modification complete.
JANEWAY: Good. Now, increase the character's height by three centimetres. Remove the facial hair. No, no, I don't like that. Put some back. About two days' growth. Better. Oh, one more thing. Access his interpersonal subroutines. Familial characters. Delete the wife.
COMPUTER: Modification complete.
JANEWAY: Pleased to meet you, Mister Sullivan.

The Voyager Transcripts - Fair Haven, Fair Haven clip on YouTube

We might then extrapolate that replicators function similarly - they have a database of known foods and food components, and new dishes can be created by incorporating and modifying those existing elements via Star Trek's highly sophisticated verbal interface. Which is essentially what @Valorum said.

  • I saw this but my thought was that she'd simply taken these programs from a central archive and transferred them to their personal replicator under the heading of "drinks".
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 19:56
  • @Valorum - Hm, interesting thought. It's possible that she accessed a central archive located somewhere besides the ship. From the dialogue, those teas did not exist in the Enterprise's computers, so she programmed them in. I always assumed she had the required technical knowledge to do so. Perhaps creating a replicator program is akin to creating a holodeck program - the computer has a voice interface which will interpret one's commands and produce a result based on that.
    – Mary7678
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 20:00
  • @Mary7678: So she had to teach the replicator how to make a decent cup of tea? That seems a bit Douglas Adams to me.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 2:06
  • 1
    @Kevin - Sorry, I don't know what "a bit Douglas Adams" means. I agree it seems odd that the replicator wouldn't have enough varieties of tea for someone's liking, but people often complain about replicated food, even when multiple varieties of a food are programmed into the replicator. "[F]ourteen varieties and they can't even get plain tomato soup right." - Tom Paris in Caretaker. It would make sense to give people the ability to add both foods that do not exist and variations of food types that do.
    – Mary7678
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 12:10
  • @Mary7678: In the hope you're not pulling our legs about "a bit Douglas Adams": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… :)
    – straycat
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 2:10

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