Spaghetti pasta is cooked in pan in boiling water.

Dried spaghetti strands pass through three stages of physical deformation on their way to becoming a toothsome plate of pasta. Credit: Getty

Physics

Physics predicts how spaghetti curls as it’s boiled

But the scientific literature remains silent on lasagna.

A simple mathematical model can capture the movements of a spaghetti noodle as it curls during cooking.

In all but the biggest pots, an uncooked noodle doesn’t lie flat on the bottom, but instead has one end propped up against the pot’s side. But as the noodle cooks and absorbs water, it sags under gravity, and then settles and curls before eventually curling away from the side of the pot.

Nathaniel Goldberg and Oliver O’Reilly at the University of California, Berkeley, relied on the mechanics of rods to model this three-stage behaviour. Their model accounts for changes to the noodle’s dimensions and elasticity as it cooks.

To test the model, the team placed a noodle in room-temperature water and imaged it as it curled. (Boiling water would have been more difficult to control.) The model correctly predicted all three phases of the noodle’s evolution over the course of roughly two hours.

Future work could involve extending the model to shell-like pasta, like lasagna or rigatoni, the authors write.