MIT scientists have developed 'pop- up' foods – flat sheets of edible pastas that sprout into 3D structures when submerged in water, an advance that would make the dining experience interactive and fun.

The 'edible origami' consists of flat sheets of gelatin and starch that, when submerged in water, instantly sprout into 3D structures, including common pasta shapes such as macaroni and rotini.

The edible films can also be engineered to fold into the shape of a flower as well as other unconventional configurations.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US created flat discs that wrap around beads of caviar, as well as spaghetti that spontaneously divides into smaller noodles when dunked in hot broth.

The shape-morphing creations are not only culinary performance art, but also a practical way to reduce food- shipping costs, researchers said.

For instance, the edible films could be stacked together and shipped to consumers, then morph into their final shape later, when immersed in water.

"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," said Wen Wang, a research scientist at MIT.

"We thought maybe in the future our shape-changing food could be packed flat and save space," said Wang.

Researchers created a number of different shapes from the gelatin films, from macaroni- and rigatoni-like configurations, to shapes that resembled flowers and horse saddles.

Curious as to how their designs might be implemented in a professional kitchen, the team showed their engineered edibles to the head chef of a high-end Boston restaurant.

The scientists and chef struck up a collaboration, during which they designed two culinary creations.

The created transparent discs of gelatin flavoured with plankton and squid ink, that instantly wrap around small beads of caviar.

They also long fettuccini-like strips, made from two gelatins that melt at different temperatures, causing the noodles to spontaneously divide when hot broth melts away certain sections.