How will astronauts cook fries in space? Scientists have discovered the recipe

THESSALONIKI, Greece — Can you make fries on Mars? Scientists are cooking up a way to fry one of the world’s classic comfort foods in space. The European Space Agency (ESA) is funding tests to explore frying techniques while astronauts float around in microgravity. A team is conducting experiments to devise ways to cook potatoes without leaving them “undercooked and undesirable.”

To understand how microgravity affects cooking methods like frying, the team developed a unique carousel-type apparatus that could operate safely in a weightless environment. The experiments took place during two ESA parabolic flight campaigns, in which an aircraft repeatedly arcs to simulate brief periods of weightlessness.

The ESA has been supporting research into frying techniques in microgravity to bridge knowledge gaps both on Earth and in space. The agency says frying potatoes in space is more complicated because it involves two intricate sciences.

“Ask any chef and they will confirm that the physics and chemistry behind food is a complex and fascinating subject that bubbles over to other science disciplines,” says Professor Thodoris Karapantsios, a member of the research team from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in a media release.

two pictures showing a black machine in the front and gray metal in the back used to monitor frying process in microgravity
To study how microgravity influences cooking techniques such as frying, a novel experimental carousel-type apparatus was designed to fly and be safe. The experiments were conducted on two ESA parabolic flight campaigns, whereby an aircraft flies in repeated arcs to recreate brief moments of weightlessness.
(credit: European Space Agency)

The team used a high-speed, high-resolution camera to record the frying process and capture the dynamics of the bubbles, including their growth rate, size, distribution, escape velocity from the potato, and their speed and direction in the oil. They also measured the temperature of the boiling oil and inside the potato.

The researchers from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece found that shortly after adding the potato to the oil in low gravity conditions, vapor bubbles detached easily from the potato’s surface, similar to the process on Earth.

4 men dressed in blue nasa suit standing around large tub for frying
Team looking into frying potatoes oil in microgravity in front of the experiment hardware on a parabolic flight. From left to right: Dr. J. Lioumbas, Dr. S. Evgenidis, Prof. T. Karapanatsios, T. Tsilipiras
(credit: European Space Agency)

While more research is necessary to refine some parameters, these findings suggest that astronauts could enjoy more than just rehydrated food as they venture into new worlds.

“Apart from nutrition and comfort, studying the process of frying in space could also lead to advancements in various fields, from traditional boiling to producing hydrogen from solar energy in microgravity,” concludes team member John Lioumbas.

The scientific paper is published in the journal Food Research International.

South West News Service writer Dean Murray contributed to this report.

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