Sustainable flat-packed pasta morphs into shape as it cooks
Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have taken inspiration from flat-packed furniture to reimagine the way pasta is created, developing a flat form of the food that morphs into conventional shapes as it boils. By taking this approach to pasta-making, the researchers believe we could save on packaging, transportation and energy costs associated with its production, all while having it taste just like the real thing.
The shapeshifting pasta was conjured up by scientists at CMU's Morphing Matter Lab, and takes advantage of the way regular pasta changes its shape by expanding and softening as it is boiled. The scientists were able to leverage this swelling process to turn flat pieces of pasta into more extravagant forms, by carefully carving out tiny grooves in the flat pasta dough.
These strategic patterns in the surface dictate the shape the pasta takes as it swells, as they take longer to cook than the unaltered sections. With careful placement of the surface grooves, the scientists were able to create flat pasta that turns into rigatoni-like tubes, fusilli-like spirals and long twirling noodles.
"The groove side expands less than the smooth side, leading the pasta to morph into shape," says Teng Zhang, a scientist at Syracuse University who collaborated on the research.
Ye Tao, one of the researchers on the project, took the flat-pack pasta out for a test run on a hiking trip, finding that it did not break en route, and was able to be successfully cooked up on a portable stove at camp.
"The morphed pasta mimicked the mouthfeel, taste and appearance of traditional pasta," she said.
While pasta that morphs into shape as it cooks might have a certain appeal as a novelty food item, the scientists behind it hope it can do much more than bring a bit of wow factor to the kitchen. Conventional pastas with their irregular shapes and sizes can be tricky to box or bag up, but the idea is that flat pasta could enable much more efficient packaging, with downstream reductions in transportation, energy and the overall carbon footprint of the food.
"We were inspired by flat-packed furniture and how it saved space, made storage easier and reduced the carbon footprint associated with transportation," says Lining Yao, director of the Morphing Matter Lab in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at CMU's School of Computer Science. "We decided to look at how the morphing matter technology we were developing in the lab could create flat-packed pastas that offered similar sustainability outcomes."
Interestingly, the team managed to apply the same surface pattern technique to swelling sheets of silicon, and therefore believe it could also find its way into the world of robotics and biomedicine.
The research was published in the journal Science Advances.