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Flat-pack furniture has become more common in the past years. But who would have thought that this could also be possible in food, particularly with dried pasta?

Wen Wang and her colleagues at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania have developed an edible flat pasta that transforms into 3D shapes when it is cooked, like the long spiral shape of fusilli and saddle shapes of conchiglie, New Scientist reported.

The researchers believe that the flat pasta could drastically reduce the amount of packaging required for food, and will save storage and transportation space.

For instance, Wang estimated that a packaged macaroni has around 60% air in the bag. But the flat pasta that morphs into 3D shapes is only less than 1mm wide, decreasing the amount of space in a packaging it will need.

Tiny Grooves Transforms Flat Pasta Into 3D Shapes

In a paper, entitled "Morphing pasta and beyond" published in Sciences Advances, the authors described a new variety of pasta that starts flat but transforms into unique 3D shapes after being boiled for seven minutes.

So how does it work?

According to CNet, researchers used machines to press tiny grooves into the flat pasta dough made of semolina flour and water.

So, when the flat pasta is boiled the grooves in it reacts and forms a pattern and turn the 2D pasta into 3D shapes, such as waves, tubes, spirals, and many more.

Researchers said that they got their inspiration from the furniture makers such as IKEA. "We were inspired by flat-packed furniture and how it saved space, made storage easier, and reduced the carbon footprint associated with transportation," said researcher Lining Yao.

Jennifer Lewis, a professor of biologically inspired engineering at Harvard University and who was not part of the study, said that she thinks this new pasta is "cool and elegant," especially because bringing science to people through food is a huge win.

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Useful For Food Delivery in Space Stations and Disaster Sites

Teng Zhang, the study co-author and a mechanical and aerospace engineer at Syracuse University developed a computer model that predicts the outcome of various designs of the flat pasta based on the heat, and water that would change the dough's gluten and starch during the cooking process.

"It's more complex than just swelling," Zhang said.

According to The New York Times, the resulting shape-shifting pasta could be useful for food delivery to space stations and disaster sites as it does not require much space to store. These two environments need a large quantity of food that should be stored in as little space as possible.

Moreover, researchers suggest in their paper that this shape-shifting pasta could have applications for soft robotics and biomedical devices. The former could inspire the latter's further development.

They tried cooking the pasta in a real-world setting, which has been both a success. One time a small group cooked it on a portable camp stove while on a hiking trip near Pittsburgh, while Dr. Yao cooked the shape-shifting pasta during a dinner party.

A similar concept of flat-packing food was also developed by MIT researchers in 2017 that turns 2D pasta into 3D shapes when dunked into water. Here's a video of that:

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