Enhanced flavors, dry and powdery: the science behind astronaut food

In outer space, on a Friday in April, astronaut Richard. U. found himself enjoying a floating pizza in zero gravity. Although its appearance was not worthy of a “masterchef”, the taste was spectacular. Richard knew the science behind that delicious slice was astounding: all the ingredients were dehydrated, vacuum packed and stabilized to extend their shelf life. Flavors have been enhanced with a careful selection of spices and aromas, and the cheese has been freeze-dried to preserve its texture and flavor. Food engineered pizza made Richard feel closer to home as he explored the unknown.

Space travel has always fascinated mankind, and as space exploration advances, a crucial question arises: How do astronauts eat while traveling across the universe? Since UNQ Scientific News Agency we try to answer.

Space programs around the world have been researching the subject for decades, designing food that not only caters to the cultural tastes and preferences of crew members, but also provides them with optimal nutrition to face the physical and mental challenges of space.

What is space food?

A space food is a special type of food used to nourish astronauts on manned missions. Fundamentally, it is about staple foods that meet the average nutritional needs of astronauts in space. Within space food, a difference must be made between pre-packaged food and fresh food produced in space. The former are produced, processed and packaged on Earth. The latter, on the other hand, are basically made in greenhouses, where all the necessary environmental conditions for crop growth are recreated.

In space, food must meet specific requirements to ensure health and well-being. Thermally stabilized, ionized, dehydrated, frozen, natural foods and powdered beverages are just a few examples of the options available. This variety of formats allows food to be safe to eat and easy to store for long periods of time, in a hostile environment like the universe.

How is the astronaut’s diet?

An astronaut’s diet is carefully monitored to ensure proper nutritional balance. In that direction, daily intake should not exceed two kilos of feed, which corresponds to approximately 2,500 calories. This amount is distributed in 15% protein, 30% fat, 50% carbohydrates and the rest in the form of liquids.. The goal is to provide space travelers with energy and nutrients to maintain their health and performance.

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Added to this, tableware and kitchen utensils also evolve to adapt to the conditions of weightlessness. From Velcro straps that secure forks and spoons to prevent them from floating around, to rehydrators that double as a kind of microwave, technology solutions have made things easier.

From Argentina to other worlds

What happens when technology and innovation come together to provide healthy, eco-friendly alternatives, even in space?

Horacio Acerbo, an Argentine businessman, managed to create a superfood from a fungus known as Fusarium venenatum. This innovative food, called Mycofood, is being consumed by astronauts in space due to its nutritional and sustainable properties.

Acerbo discovered the nutritional and sustainable properties of this mushroom five years ago and decided to investigate it further. With the help of the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI) and artificial intelligence, he developed a fungus biomass, which he called Mycofood.and modified its characteristics to produce various food products.

Mycofood proved to be extremely versatile, as it can be used to make cheese, hamburgers, chicken breasts, fish, beverages and even to fortify pasta. The biomass is off-white in color, tasteless and odorless, making it an ideal base for creating a wide variety of foods.

Mycofood has significant advantages. Its manufacturing process does not depend on the traditional production chain and only requires basic sources such as carbon, water, oxygen and nitrogen, which avoids geopolitical problems and contributes to food security.

Although the biomass is not yet for sale, Eternal, the company that carries out this development, already produces at an industrial level. One of the greatest achievements was reaching the semifinals of the Deep Space Food Challenge, powered by NASA. In this contest, astronauts tested hamburgers and chicken nuggets made with Mycofood biomass. Currently, Acerbo plans to develop a small bioreactor that will allow astronauts to produce biomass in space.

However, food production on Earth is facing increasing challenges, such as the scarcity of natural resources and climate change. In this sense, the adoption of conservation and food preparation methods used in space can help overcome these challenges and improve the sustainability of food production systems.

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