Shape-Shifting Food That's Both Entertaining and Practical

Fagjun | Published 2017-06-05 21:11

From 2D to 3D
[Photo by Michael Indresano Photography]

A team of MIT researchers created shape-shifting food that can transform upon immersion in water.

Not only is this new invention amazing to watch in action, it also has a lot of potential for practical applications. The researchers came up with flat edible sheets of gelatin and starch that shift into other shapes when in water. Because the food is flat, it can therefore be easier to ship and store. Consumers only have to submerge the sheets in water, and voila!--shape-shifting food.

The edible sheets the researchers made became different kinds of pasta—macaroni, rotini, and spaghetti—upon contact with water. Researchers also created flat discs that can curl up around blobs of caviar. Of course, the researchers also shaped the gelatin films into flower and saddle shapes.

How does it taste, though? Pretty good, if the creators do say so themselves.

Food Engineering

A fancy feast with caviar and engineered pasta
[Photo by Michael Indresano Photography]

Researchers Wen Wang and Lining Yao were studying the effects of moisture on various materials before they came up with the edible sheets. They were working with a certain kind of bacteria that responds to humidity by either shrinking or expanding. Working on this same principle of expanding or shrinking, the researchers thought to work with gelatin, which expands when in contact with water.

Thus, the researchers came up with a film that had two gelatin layers of different densities. The top layer is more dense and thus more capable of absorbing water than the bottom layer. Upon immersion in water, the top layer curls up and the sheet forms an arch.

Of course, having just one shape is boring. The researchers thus wanted to be able to create different shapes and dimensions with the sheets. To do this, they 3D-printed out strips and patterns of edible cellulose over the top layer of the gelatin sheets. The cellulose absorbs very little water, and can thus control the amount of water that penetrates through to the top gelatin layer. Patterns of cellulose can determine the shape that the sheets will ultimately take after immersion in water.

An invention like this won't be worth much if it doesn't actually work as intended. Naturally, the researchers wanted to test how well their creation works as food, not just as products of engineering.

Watch: Transformative Appetite

DIY Shape-Shifting Food

Engineered noodles in white hoisin
[Photo by Michael Indresano Photography]

The team brought their creation to Matthew Delisle, the head chef of a well-known and quite posh restaurant in Boston. From this, a collaboration was born. The researchers and the chef joined forces for a short time and came up with something quite interesting, to say the least. This collaboration produced transparent gelatin discs flavored with squid ink and plankton. These discs curl up and hold caviar.

The collaboration also produced long strips that resemble fettuccine. For this particular kind of pasta, the team used two types of gelatin that melt at two different temperatures. Thus, when they poured hot broth over the gelatin sheets, parts would melt away and the sheets would break apart into noodles.

Best of all, the researchers also want to make their techniques of creating shape-shifting food available to the public. They set up an online interface on which anyone can create designs for their own edible shape-shifters.

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