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Frying Food in Space: A New Frontier in Astronaut Culinary Experience
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.
Frying Food in Space: A New Frontier in Astronaut Culinary Experience
by Staff Writers
Paris (ESA) Jun 02, 2023

The dietary regimen of astronauts is a crucial aspect of space missions that impacts overall health and morale. The European Space Agency (ESA) has been funding research on cooking techniques in microgravity conditions, with a recent focus on frying food, a worldwide culinary method with intricate physics and chemistry at play. In a breakthrough for future lunar and Martian missions, the research has suggested that a beloved comfort food, fries, may be feasible to prepare even in outer space.

Cooking food in space presents unique challenges due to the absence of gravity. The process of frying, in particular, was uncertain, as it was unclear if bubbles created during the cooking process would cling to the surface of a potato, creating a protective layer of steam and potentially leaving it undercooked.

"The physics and chemistry behind food are multifaceted and intriguing topics that extend to other scientific disciplines," shares Professor Thodoris Karapantsios from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, a key member of the research team.

To investigate the impact of microgravity on frying, the team employed a newly developed carousel-type apparatus designed to operate safely in a weightless environment. This study was conducted on two ESA parabolic flight campaigns, where the state of weightlessness was mimicked through repeated arcing flight paths.

The team used a high-speed, high-resolution camera to record the frying process. The footage enabled the researchers to assess bubble dynamics, including growth rate, size and distribution, and escape velocity from the potato. Moreover, the bubble's speed and direction of travel in the oil were observed. The equipment measured the temperature of the boiling oil as well as the internal temperatures within the potato.

The experiment setup is automated and sealed, ensuring safety by maintaining constant pressure within the frying chamber. This also helps avoid oil leaks, prevents the oil from splashing, and minimizes energy consumption for heating.

Preliminary findings from the University of Thessaloniki team reveal that vapor bubbles readily detached from the potato surface in low gravity, similar to how they behave on Earth. While further research is necessary to refine certain parameters, this discovery indicates that astronauts may have the opportunity to enjoy more than just rehydrated food during their space exploration.

John Lioumbas, a member of the research team, affirms the broader potential of this study, "Understanding the process of frying in space could lead to advancements in various fields, from traditional boiling to producing hydrogen from solar energy in microgravity."

Research Report:Is frying possible in space?

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