With technological advancements, there are always pros and cons, pluses and minuses. Think of social media, for example. There were two announcements recently about food “advances” that only time will tell whether people will accept and adopt them.
The first—reported in the New York Times— comes from researchers at a Carnegie Mellon University laboratory in Pennsylvania. Researchers there designed a flat pasta noodle that when boiled turns into three-dimensional shapes. Their project didn’t start out as a culinary endeavor, but the researchers ending up focusing on one of the world’s most popular foods: they found that pasta is not only simple and ubiquitous, but also rich in shape design.
In the food industry today, pasta is made by folding or squeezing dough through a metal die and then into the desired shape—elbow, twist, or tube. The research team in this project began with a conventional recipe of semolina flour and water, and then used a classic roller to create sheets of dough. Then they stamped the flattened dough to create tiny patterned grooves in its surface. The grooved surfaces expand less than the smooth ones during cooking, thus creating different shapes. However, the process is more complex that just swelling—computer modelling predicted the final designs based on other factors including how heat and water changes the dough’s gluten and starch during the cooking process.
Of course, the proof will be in the eating. The researchers say that flat-to-plump pasta is fun to make, uses less packaging, and has a smaller carbon footprint than traditional dried pasta. It also cooks in 7 minutes…making it al dente, which is a good start.
The other announcement comes from Rome, as reported by CNN. Near Piazza Bologna in via Catania, stands a bright new red vending machine. But this one doesn’t dispense classic snacks, drinks or daily necessities. Instead, it produces freshly cooked pizza in just three minutes. From “Mr. Go Pizza,” clients can choose from four kinds of pizza that cost between $5.20 and $7.20: Margherita, quattro formaggi (four cheeses), alla diavola (spicy salame), or pancetta (bacon). The machine kneads and tops the dough, and then customers can watch the pizza cook behind a small glass window. The pizza is dispensed in a carton, just like at a takeaway restaurant.
The Mr. Go technology comes from an international start up that operates in the food tech sector; The Food Labs of Bolzano participates in the project, which has been working to implement the efficiency and quality of the machinery for ten years. The result? Mostly thumbs down. Among the comments— “not hot enough,” “not enough toppings,” “tastes more like a piadina (an Italian flatbread). The Mr. Go Facebook page responds to some of the detractors: “The flour mix used contains a very small amount of leavening agent and sugar that activate the leavening process during the cooking phase.” But cooking this machine-made pizza at 380 degrees is nowhere near the 800-degree minimum of a wood-burning pizza oven. And the machine cannot generate the joy from watching a pizzaiola knead the dough and cook it in that oven within sight of your restaurant table. On the positive side? The machine is open all night, and maybe for students in the area, Mr. Go is just the right thing.