• Flat-packed noodles that form iconic pasta shapes when cooked could lead to more sustainable packaging, transportation, and storage, according to research.
  • “We were inspired by flat-packed furniture and how it saved space, made storage easier, and reduced the carbon footprint associated with transportation.”
  • Cutting packaging and food waste will be a vital part of a more sustainable future.

Flat packed noodles that form iconic pasta shapes when cooked could lead to more sustainable packaging, transportation, and storage.

To make the transformation, researchers impressed tiny grooves into flat pasta dough—made of only semolina flour and water—in patterns that cause it to morph into tubes of penne and rigatoni, spirals of fusilli and rotini, and other twists and waves when cooked.

The morphed pasta looks, feels and, most importantly, tastes like traditional pasta, opening new possibilities for food design and allowing for flat-packed pasta that would cut back on packaging, save space in storage and transportation, and possibly reduce the time and energy needed for cooking.

“We were inspired by flat-packed furniture and how it saved space, made storage easier, and reduced the carbon footprint associated with transportation,” says Lining Yao, director of the Morphing Matter Lab in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science. “We decided to look at how the morphing matter technology we were developing in the lab could create flat-packed pastas that offered similar sustainability outcomes.”

The team published their understanding of the morphing mechanism and design principles in a paper published in the journal Science Advances.

The grooves stamped into the flat pasta sheets increase the time it takes water to cook that area of the pasta. By carefully planning where and how to place the grooves, the researchers can control what shape of pasta forms when it is cooked.

“The groove side expands less than the smooth side, leading the pasta to morph into shape,” says Teng Zhang, an assistant professor at Syracuse University who led the project’s modeling analysis.

Grooves can control the morphed shape of any swellable material. The team has demonstrated that it can morph silicon sheets using the same groove technique.

“This could potentially be used in soft robotics and biomedical devices”, says Wen Wang, a former researcher affiliated with the Morphing Matter Lab.

The plastic material used in food packaging contributes greatly to landfills worldwide, and packaging litters the world’s oceans. Creating effective food packaging is crucial to reducing waste and shaping a sustainable future.

The morphing pasta builds on years of research by Yao and the Morphing Matter Lab on morphing mechanisms and applications with different materials ranging from plastic and rubber to fabric and food.

Additional coauthors are from Zhejiang University, Syracuse University, and Carnegie Mellon.

The US National Science Foundation, the Carnegie Mellon Manufacturing Futures Initiative, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China funded the work.