“When you buy pasta in the supermarket, up to 80 percent or 90 percent of what’s in the package is just air,” said Chen-Yi Cheng, one of Yao’s co-authors. “If you can reduce the size of the package, you can send more and better food into outer space.”
Shape-changing noodles start with the fact that gelatin expands when it absorbs water in varying degrees depending on the relative density. Using a 3D printer, the researchers created gelatin film with density that varied in different sections. That meant the film would fold over itself when exposed to water as different parts grew to greater or lesser extent.
In addition, they added layers of edible cellulose on top. The cellulose, which absorbs very little water, acts as a natural barrier. As a result they could determine which part of the noodle would expand in water, and by how much — making the pasta “programmable.”
In theory, said Cheng, the principle could be applied to other types of food as well.
“As long as the ingredient has water inside it, and the food is either boiled or fried, and there is some kind of distribution of different densities, then we could in theory achieve this kind of transformation and bending behavior,” said Cheng.
That could open the door to a whole new family of shape-changing cuisine.
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