Innovation That Matters

The flat-packed pasta morphs into a variety of shapes when cooked | Photo source Morphing Matter Lab / Carnegie Mellon University

Sustainable, flat-packed pasta changes shape when cooked

Food & Drink

Researchers have devised a way to create flat pasta that morphs into a range of shapes when cooked, saving on energy used for packaging and transportation

Spotted: Everyone loves pasta, especially the whimsical shapes, each designed by tradition to hold particular types of sauces. But the three-dimensional nature of pasta also makes it more difficult and expensive to package and ship. Now, a research team led by the Morphing Matter Lab at Carnegie Mellon University may have an answer – flat-packed pasta.

The team started with flat pasta dough, made from semolina flour and water, and impressed tiny, patterned grooves into the surface. When the pasta is dunked into hot water, the patterns of the grooves cause it to bend and form traditional tube, spiral and twist shapes. The result both looks and tastes like traditional pasta.

The process works because the grooves in the flat pasta vary the time it takes to cook different areas. By carefully planning where and how to place the grooves, the researchers can control what shape of pasta forms when it is cooked. This doesn’t just work for pasta – a  similar technique can be used to control the shape of other types of “swellable” material, such as silicon sheets.

Teng Zhang, an assistant professor at Syracuse University, where the project’s modeling analysis was conducted, explains that “The groove side expands less than the smooth side, leading the pasta to morph into shape. Sustainability was also an issue, as Lining Yao, director of the Morphing Matter Lab, points out: “We were inspired by flat-packed furniture and how it saved space, made storage easier and reduced the carbon footprint associated with transportation. 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.”

Flat packed furniture may be the bane of every starter-home, but it saves on packaging and waste. It has also inspired a number of other flat-packed items, from disposable razors to tiny homes. Perhaps one day, almost everything we buy will be some version of flat-packed.

Written By: Lisa Magloff

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