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.
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.