MIT Researchers Create Shape-Changing Food

Posted: May 26 2017, 5:54am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

MIT Researchers Create Shape-Changing Food
These pasta shapes were caused by immersing a 2-D flat film into water. Image Credit:: Michael Indresano Production
  • MIT researchers engineer shape-shifting, programmable pasta

MIT experts have manufactured types of noodles that can change their shape when dipped in water.

The researchers at MIT want to turn the dictum “stop playing with your food” on its head. They want to make fine dining ever more interesting by making food that radically shifts its shape when placed in a liquid medium.

Termed edible origami, this food material consists of flat matrices composed of gelatin and starch that burst into 3D structures when water is added to them. The small pieces of food resemble pasta in their consistency.

These shape-shifting morsels of food can even take on the physiognomy of a flower. Among the things the scientists experimented with were flat discs which engulfed beads of caviar and spaghetti that divided into multiple strands when dipped in hot broth.

According to MIT, these shape-shifting pieces of food were not only culinary wonders but a convenient way of shipping food in a compact manner.

The small pieces could be stacked in such a style that they fitted into each other thus saving up on extra space. Then when they reached the consumption point, they could be dunked in water and thus they would resume their full dimensions.

The food items could be packed in flat sheets. This setup uses radical atoms to make desiccated foods. Also the way edible materials reacted to water was explored on an extensive basis.

The researchers took great interest in a specific bacterium that could contract and expand in response to moisture. The same bacterium was used to make a Japanese fermented dish.

They began experimenting with gelatin with different densities. The top layer and bottom layer have a difference between them. When immersed in water a 3D shape is taken on by this gelatin.

The researchers eventually deposited layers of cellulose on the gelatin layers. Thus the absorption of water varied between the gelatin and cellulose thereby leading to different 3D shapes for the edible pasta bits.

Food can therefore be programmed to bend and shape-shift in response to the demands of the makers. The researchers were thus able to make strange and wonderful noodle shapes. Not only did these include macaroni and rigatoni but flowers and horses in their myriad pasta shapes.

“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.”

Lead author of the paper on shape-changing pasta is a former graduate student Lining Yao. Other co-authors of the paper are 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.

“This project is the one of the latest to materialize our vision of ‘radical atoms’ — combining human interactions with dynamic physical materials, which are transformable, conformable, and informable,” Ishii says.

The 3D edible bits and pieces were used to make a couple of dishes in the kitchen and they not only looked good but tasted delicious as well. This is thus the beginning of noodle democracy as we know it!

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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