If You’re Weightless In Space, Can You Get Crispy French Fries? Greek Researchers Cooking Up Comfort Food For Astronauts

By Rhonda J. Miller on December 29, 2013 10:36 AM EST

Space Food
Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin plays with his food on the International Space Station in this image uploaded Nov. 27, 2013. Greek researchers are experimenting with how gravity, or lack of gravity, affects deep-frying potatoes in an effort to add more comfort food to the astro-menu that's mostly thermostabilized, freeze-dried and pre-packaged. (Photo: NASA / Rhonda J. Miller)

If French fries are going to be a "must have" on the comfort food menu for space voyages, it's important that they can be deep fried just so, to a perfect crispy crust. So researchers at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece are conducting earthly experiments in pursuit of tantalizing space-cooked potatoes.The hunger for yummy astro-fries is important enough to be funded by the European Space Agency, according to the Daily Mail. The research started from a food craving — a Russian cosmonaut said he'd like fried potatoes.

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Researcher Thodoris Karapantsios used a giant centrifuge to find out how fries cook under conditions of hypergravity, which is when the force of gravity is more than the that on Earth. "It will be important to know whether we can fry on Mars or the moon," said Karapantsios. 

The experimental French fries, or "chips," as they're affectionately known in some countries outside the U.S., formed a perfect crispy crust when cooked at a force of 3-g, which is three times the gravity of Earth, Karapantsios found. There's an advantage to cooking in 3-g: The fries were done in half the usual time. The experiments by Karapantsios and colleague John Lioumbas at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki are described in an article, "The Effect of Increased Gravitational Acceleration in Potato Deep-Fat Frying," in the January 2014 issue of the journal Food Research International.

To add to efforts to improve the appeal of food for astronauts beyond drab prepared space meals, Lioumbas and Karapantsios took on the mission of looking into the possiblities of deep-frying in space, according to BBCThe Greek researchers began the cooking experiments in hypergravity, puttting potato sticks in half a liter of hot oil in a deep-fryer. They attached it to to the end of the eight-millimeter-long arms of the Large Diameter Centrifuge at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

While they had success finding the perfect French fries cooked at 3-g, that doesn't hold much promise for crispyness if the potatoes have to be cooked in zero gravity, according to the BBCTo find out more about how gravity influences the deep-fryiing process, the Greek researchers are also experimenting with food preparation in microgravity, where gravity is much less than that on Earth.

While food choices for astronauts may not include hot, crispy deep-fried potatoes for some time, space menus have increased substantially in recent years. For Thanksgiving 2013, the six crew members aboard the International Space Station had a holiday dinner that included freeze-dried green beans, thermostabilized yams and other dishes prepared to give the astronauts a little taste of home, according to Space

"We now have about 200 different foods and beverages that are part of our baseline food system for the International Space Station," NASA food scientist Vickie Kloeris said in a Nov. 27, 2013 video interview with Space. "Included in those are a variety of traditional-type Thanksgiving items. For instance, we have sliced turkey that is thermostabilized. It's in a pouch, so they warm it up and cut the pouch open and eat out of the pouch with a fork. We have cornbread dressing freeze-dried — they add water ... We have mashed potatoes — no gravy, unfortunately."

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