Flat-packed pasta: Researchers minimize air space with 3D-formable “grooving” tech
19 Aug 2021 --- Researchers have developed pasta that packs flat but takes on a 3D form when cooked. This “morphing mechanism” could save an estimated 59 to 86 percent in packaging space during shipping and storage by reducing the air space, according to the Science Advances-published study.
“Grooving” the pasta surface with geometric indents can transform the food into various curly and twisted shapes.
Carefully planning these grooves allows the researchers to control the shape pasta forms when it is cooked, including penne, rigatoni, fusilli and rotini.
Regardless, the morphed pasta still looks, feels and tastes like traditional pasta. “Taste and texture are the two main factors for NPD in the food industry,” study author Dr. Wen Wang, from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, US, tells PackagingInsights.
“However, there is not much research focusing on the change of food shapes and its intrinsic relationship with food materials.” Wang discusses the R&D challenges and commercial scale-up considerations.
Making a mark
Creating a groove can easily be prototyped through low-cost manufacturing methods, such as stamping, molding, casting or laser etching, depending on manufacturing limitations and different elastic or viscoelastic behaviors.
The general design strategy introduced here could also potentially be applied to a broad category of food gels, since most food gels are hydrophilic gels and can undergo volumetric expansion induced by hydration during cooking.
“Here, we demonstrate a broadened shape space and design guidelines for helix-based geometries with parallel lines and cone frustum-based geometries with radial lines. We also describe more complicated morphing shapes by integrating the primitives, for example, a single helix and cone frustum,” the study authors write.
“We also present nonzero Gaussian curvature shapes, such as saddles and twists, by introducing double-sided grooves. These results indicate an even greater scope for groove-based morphing with an enriched shape space and an increased range of potential applications.”
Scale-up obstacles abound
Listing a slew of practical scale-up hurdles, Wang first details that pasta’s visual appearance dominates in the sector, explaining why morphing technologies are not yet widely used in the food industry in general.
Next, designing industrial-scale equipment with high efficiency and accuracy for grooving the pasta dough could be challenging.
“Some food materials might be inert in terms of water/oil absorption, and may not work well if they are the main component of the food. We would need people with expertise and financial support to achieve that goal,” Wang notes.
Moreover, marketing the final product and finding the right channel to reach consumers is equally “crucial,” she continues.
However, there appear to be just as many market opportunities in morphing’s commercialization as there are challenges.
Wang envisions novel business models, such as pasta-selling robots in supermarkets to customize pasta.
Morphing beyond pasta
Initially, the Morphing Matter Lab team was inspired by flat-packed furniture and how it saved space and facilitated storage.
Indeed, the technology is not limited to pasta. “For instance, noodles, popular in Asia, could be transformed similarly to pasta,” Wang concludes.
By Anni Schleicher
This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, PackagingInsights.
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