Sheets of food form into shapes when added to water © Michael Indresano Production/MIT
Sheets of food form into shapes when added to water © Michael Indresano Production/MIT

Flat pack 'pasta' could cut shipping costs

30 May 2017

A new type of food that can be stored as flat sheets and later morphed into different shapes simply by adding water has been developed by the MIT.

The institute believes the innovation, which can be transported as a film made of a mixture of starch and gelatine, could significantly save food shipping costs.

When submerged in water the film instantly sprouts into three-dimensional structures, including common pasta shapes such as macaroni.

The films can be engineered to morph into the shape of a flower or a spaghetti that divides into smaller pieces when rehydrated.

“We did some simple calculations, such as for macaroni pasta, and even if you pack it perfectly, you still will end up with 67% of the volume as air,” says Wen Wang, a co-author on the paper and a former graduate student and research scientist in MIT’s Media Lab.

“We thought maybe in the future our shape-changing food could be packed flat and save space.”

The key to the innovation is a film made from gelatin of two different densities. The top layer is more densely packed, and thus able to absorb more water, than the bottom, which ensures it curls when rehydrated.

Researchers used 3-D printing to create strips of edible cellulose over the top gelatin layer, which controls the amount of water that this layer is exposed to.

Printing cellulose in various patterns onto gelatin, they found they could predictably control the structure’s response to water and the shapes that it assumed.

“This way you can have programmability,” said co-author Lining Yao. “You ultimately start to control the degree of bending and the total geometry of the structure.”

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