Pasta boxes take up a lot of space in the pantry, especially when they contain tubular or squiggly pasta. A one-pound box of spaghetti is more compact than a one-pound box of ziti, right? Science is tackling the shelf-space hogging issue with a "pasta of the future" — one that is flat until it is put into water, where it takes on its true shape.

Researchers at MIT's Tangible Media Group created an edible 2D film made from "common food materials," such as protein, cellulose or starch, that can transform into 3D shapes when they absorb water. They call it the "concept of transformative appetite."

See for yourself:

The number of shapes possible are endless. ZME Science explains how it works.

Two layers of gelatin were stacked on each other; the top was able to absorb more water than the bottom layer. When the film is immersed in water, the top layer bends over the bottom layer one and creates an arch.

To make the flat film turn into various shapes, researchers added a layer of cellulose on top that "controls how the flat noodles bend in water." This layer can be added by a 3D printer, and the shape can be determined by what is printed.

While this seems like "the future is now," don't expect to stock up on flat pasta any time soon. There's one thing that still needs to happen: It needs to taste more like pasta. The noodles used in the culinary creations in the above video were a mix of gelatin and cellulose, and while they didn't taste bad, they didn't taste like the pasta we're used to either.

Side note: This pasta makes me think of the old MGM future-themed cartoons by Rex Avery I used to see on Saturday mornings. Society is still waiting for our "house of tomorrow" — a house that's compact and becomes full size when you pull the string. But given this pasta news, such an idea feels closer now...


Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.