Enjoy better-cooked pasta with...physics and a ruler?


Bill Bowman

Professor Tawfick and team
Standing: Dr. Sam Tawfick (left, Principal Investigator) and Jong Hwang (BSc student). Seated: Yun Seong Kim (left, PhD student) and Ryan Siu (MSc student). On screen: Jonghyun Ha (former postdoctoral associate attending meeting live from South Korea).

Multitudes of amateur chefs will soon enjoy perfect al dente pasta and cleaner kitchen walls, as new research shows how measurements with a ruler—not the mythologized throwing against the nearest vertical surface—may be the best way to confirm when pasta is fully cooked.

In their presentation at the American Physical Society Meeting: Science Al dente: Elastocapillarity and swelling of cooked pasta, MechSE associate professor Sameh Tawfick and his research team have utilized fundamental physical principles and conclusions, using a ruler to measure the stiction distance between two vertically hanging pasta to gauge their cooking status.

In a manuscript, they describe several aspects of pasta noodle physics as a function of cooking. As the title describes, it builds up systematic experiments and simple theory that first cover swelling, modulus changes, and finally elastocapillarity as a method to gauge the stiffness and hence the cooked texture.

The researchers theoretically and experimentally investigate the swelling and softening of pasta due to liquid imbibition, as well as the elastic deformation and adhesion of pasta due to capillary force. As water diffuses into the pasta during cooking, it softens gradually from the outside inward as starch swells.

Details of the research will be presented by author Jonghyun Hwang at the March 2022 meeting of the American Physical Society. Read the full article, titled Swelling, Softening and Elastocapillary Adhesion of Cooked Pasta, in Physics of Fluids.