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Groovy flat-packed pasta could help revolutionize food production

Pasta made and sent flat also may decrease carbon emissions.

Pasta is beloved because of its diversity of shapes, from tubes of penne to spirals of fusilli. Nonetheless, these bulky 3D structures often need large packages to store. Now scientists have developed horizontal pasta that can morph into familiar contours when cooked, which could make them easier to send not only on Earth, but in space.

The researchers drew inspiration from how flat-packed things like furniture made storage and transport easier. They sought to make food that could bundle flat for slimmer containers,"because food packaging is one of the greatest sources of waste on the planet," said study senior author Lining Yao, director of Carnegie Mellon University's Morphing Matter Lab in Pittsburgh.

Conventional pasta already changes shape when cooked, burning and expanding when boiled. In the new study, Yao and her coworkers harnessed these properties to make their bread that was toasted.

The investigators stamped patterns of tiny grooves to conventional flat pasta dough made solely of semolina flour and water. The grooves increased how much time it took boiling water to induce those regions to swell. By controlling the angle, width, thickness and spacing of the grooves, they could make horizontal pasta fold to capsules, spirals, twists, waves and boxlike contours when cooked.

The scientists noted that they could easily generate these grooves using inexpensive manufacturing techniques like stamping, etching or molding. And when the morphing pasta was taken on a trekking trip, study lead author Ye Tao, today at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, discovered it took up less space inside her pack, didn't break during trekking, cooked on a portable camp stove, and looked, felt and tasted like traditional pasta.

The researchers noticed flat-packed pasta may be environmentally friendly. In Italy, roughly 1 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from cooking pasta, according to the researchers, and level pasta may cook faster than tubular pasta, decreasing wheat's carbon footprint. Flat pasta could also prove easier to manufacture, reducing costs and improving production efficiency.

This morphing technique could probably control the form of any swellable material, rather than simply edible foods, Yao said. She and her colleagues revealed they could morph silicone rubber sheets exactly the exact same manner, suggesting potential uses in soft robots and biomedical devices, she noted.

Ultimately, flat-packed pasta could even find use on space missions, where storage space is at a premium.

"Our flat-packed pasta could save more than 60% of the packaging space of traditional pasta while still having the same mouthfeel, flavor and texture," Yao said.

The scientists detailed their findings on the internet on May 5 in the journal Science Advances.

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