Flat-pack furniture is commonplace, and flat-pack pasta might be one day too.
Wen Wang of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania and her colleagues have developed edible 2D pasta that swells into 3D shapes when cooked, such as long spirals resembling fusilli and saddle shapes similar to conchiglie.
The researchers believe that flat-pack dry pasta could drastically reduce the amount of packaging required for the foodstuff, as well as saving on storage and transportation space.
For example, when macaroni is packaged, around 60 per cent of the space in the box or bag is air, estimates Wang.
The 2D pasta morphs into 3D shapes when boiled because each piece is lined with tiny grooves, less than 1 millimetre wide, in particular patterns. The grooves increase the surface area of some parts of a piece of pasta. Areas with a higher surface area absorb water and swell faster, says Wang, who now works at food and drink company Nestlé.
“The groove pattern in terms of the depth, the height, and then the spacing are all very important,” says Wang. “By utilising this we could bend the pasta into the shape we would like.”
The researchers made the product using an authentic Italian pasta dough recipe consisting of only semolina flour and water. Imprinting the grooves was the only additional step required.
Preliminary taste tests suggest that the pasta has the same taste and mouthfeel as the regular version.
Because the grooves drastically increase the surface area of a piece of pasta, it may be better able to absorb sauce, says Wang. “So your pasta may be more tasty,” she says.
Before the pasta becomes commercially available, production would first need to be drastically scaled up using specialised tools to print the grooves in an accurate way, says Wang. More taste tests are also needed to see how consumers rate it against regular pasta.
Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf4098
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