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article imageFood transforms into 3D shapes in water

By Tim Sandle     Jun 1, 2017 in Science
Food technologists have created flat sheets made up of gelatin and starch. When these sheets are submerged in water they rapidly develop into three-dimensional structures.
The creation of the three-dimensional 'shape shifting' food comes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The bizarre form of edible origami allows for flat sheets of food substances to transform, when placed into water, into a range of shapes, such as common pasta shapes such as macaroni and rotini.
Beyond common pasta shapes things appear even more interesting: the edible films can be bio-engineered to become the shape of a flower or anything else. In studies, the researchers have created discs that can be wrapped around beads of caviar. Furthermore, they have created spaghetti which spontaneously divides into smaller noodles as it is dunked into a hot broth.
Key to the development is the properties of gelatin. The researchers established that gelatin can expand to varying degrees depending on its density, and experimenting with this gave the basis of the shape changing food. This required the formation of a two-layer film made from gelatin of two different densities. To ensure the right shapes are produced required a 3D printer; here the scientists managed to 3D print strips of edible cellulose (which acts as a water barrier) over the top gelatin layer (which serves as a water absorber).
The research has been presented to the Association for Computing Machinery's May 2017 Computer-Human Interaction Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. These are a series of academic conferences is generally considered the most prestigious in the field of human–computer interaction.
The idea behind then invention is to make different food more popular for consumers and to allow food to be stored and transported more easily (flat packed food is far easier to transit). The edible films can readily be stacked together and shipped. For the consumer, the food stuff would morph back into its 'ideal' shape when immersed in water and provide food that resembles what the consumer is more used to.
Here lead researcher Dr. Wen Wang explains: "We did some simple calculations, such as for macaroni pasta, and even if you pack it perfectly, you still will end up with 67 percent of the volume as air." Dr. Wang adds: "We thought maybe in the future our shape-changing food could be packed flat and save space."
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