Food Science

Has Science Engineered a Solution to Bad Pasta Packaging?

May 29, 2017

Some packets of pasta are, more often than not, full of air. I’m talking about macaronis and rigatonis, packages that can have a depressingly small amount of pasta inside them. It's a sad reality of product packaging that's been begging for innovation.

Last Friday, researchers from MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group showcased a new creation they’d devised as a response to this need for more efficient pasta packaging: shapeshifting pasta that packs flat and blossoms upon hitting water.

The pasta begins as a filmy sheet of starch and gelatin. Upon encountering liquid, though, it furls into a 3D shape. It’s a process not entirely unlike what happens with Japanese nattō due to the presence of bacillus subtilis, a moisture-responsive bacteria.

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The gelatin from the Tangible Media Group experiment was embedded with this same bacteria and had edible cellulose 3D-printed atop it. Lining Yao, one of the the researchers responsible for the project, wants to “democratize the design of noodles” with this creation, eventually bringing it to supermarkets across the country. That’s a bold proclamation. But this kooky, compelling video gives me faith that it could very well happen. Personally, I think pasta democracy couldn’t come sooner.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jaye Bee
    Jaye Bee
  • Julie Christopher
    Julie Christopher
  • Lydia Monroe
    Lydia Monroe
  • isw
  • Matt
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Jaye B. June 2, 2017
Do they really spend money on daft things like this at MIT?? No wonder we still don't have a cure for the common cold.
Julie C. June 2, 2017
Eew! And does the gelatin make pasta nonvegetarian? Um, no thanks.
Lydia M. June 1, 2017
I don't want to eat a science project of pasta made with starch and gelatin. I want semolina flour. I want real food...enough to fill me up and make me smile. If this is the future.....I need to stock up on pasta NOW!
Julie C. June 2, 2017
kaynoriko June 2, 2017
Totally agree!
isw June 1, 2017
Sure didn't look like anything I'd want to toss with Marcella Hazan's wonderful sauce ...
Matt May 29, 2017
Last time I checked, pasta was sold by weight not by volume. It doesn't matter if there's a lot of air space in the package.
kaynoriko June 2, 2017
Also, I thought the air was in there for protection as a cushion for the pasta.
foofaraw May 29, 2017
Very cool!
Whiteantlers May 29, 2017
Great stoner video! : )