The food we eat determines how we feel and nothing beats a good roast, in moderation of course.
As we prepare for missions to the moon and on to Mars, astronauts will be pleased to hear from researchers that one staple food isn’t unattainable even in space: french fries.
ESA supports research on frying and cooking methods in zero gravity to fill knowledge gaps on Earth and in space.
Although frying potatoes is done all over the world, it involves complex physical and chemical processes, and things get even more complicated in space.
Not sure if gravity frying would work.
Without the buoyancy that pulls upward, bubbles could cling to a potato’s surface, coating the potato with a layer of vapor that the researchers hypothesized might be undercooked and undesirable.
“Ask any chef and they will confirm that the physics and chemistry behind food is a complex and fascinating subject that spills over into other scientific disciplines,” says Professor Thodoris Karapantsios of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and a member of the research team behind the studies.
The Paper was published in the journal Food Research International.
To study how microgravity affects cooking techniques such as frying, a novel experimental carousel device was developed that is safe while functioning in zero gravity.
The experiments were conducted on two ESA parabolic flight campaigns, during which an aircraft flies in repeated arcs to recreate brief moments of weightlessness.
The experiment filmed the frying process with a high-resolution, high-speed camera to capture the bubble dynamics such as growth rate, size, and distribution, as well as the escape velocity from the potato, the speed of the bubbles, and the direction of movement in the oil. The experiment measured the temperature of the cooking oil and the temperatures inside the potato.
The experimental hardware is automated and closed for security reasons. It maintains a constant pressure in the frying chamber to prevent leaks, keep the oil from sloshing around and use less energy when heating.
Fries on Mars
The researchers, from the University of Thessaloniki, Greece, found that shortly after the potato was added to the oil under low gravity conditions, steam bubbles easily broke away from the potato surface, similar to what happens on Earth.
While more research is needed to fine-tune some parameters, this suggests that astronauts may be consuming more than just rehydrated foods when exploring new worlds.
“Apart from nutrition and comfort, studying the frying process in space could also lead to advances in various areas, from traditional cooking to producing hydrogen from solar energy in microgravity,” concludes John Lioumbas of the team.