Researchers engineer shape-shifting noodles when dunked in water
“Don’t play with your food” is a saying that MIT researchers are taking with a grain or two of salt. The team is finding ways to make the dining experience interactive and fun, with food that can transform its shape when water is added.
The researchers, from MIT’s Tangible Media Group, have concocted something akin to edible origami, in the form of flat sheets of gelatin and starch that, when submerged in water, instantly sprout into three-dimensional structures, including common pasta shapes such as macaroni and rotini.
The edible films can also be engineered to fold into the shape of a flower as well as other unconventional configurations. Playing with the films’ culinary potential, the researchers created flat discs that wrap around beads of caviar, similar to cannoli, as well as spaghetti that spontaneously divides into smaller noodles when dunked in hot broth.
The researchers presented their work in a paper this month at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2017 Computer-Human Interaction Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. They describe their shape-morphing creations as not only culinary performance art, but also a practical way to reduce food-shipping costs. For instance, the edible films could be stacked together and shipped to consumers, then morph into their final shape later, when immersed in water.
“We did some simple calculations, such as for macaroni pasta, and even if you pack it perfectly, you still will end up with 67 percent 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.”
Wang’s co-authors are Lining Yao, lead author and former graduate student; Chin-Yi Cheng, a former graduate student; Daniel Levine, a current graduate student; Teng Zhang of Syracuse University; and Hiroshi Ishii, the Jerome B. Wiesner Professor in media arts and sciences.
Image source: Michael Indresano Production