French Fries on Mars: Potatoes have been successfully fried under micro gravity conditions by scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA), thus paving the way for astronauts to relish crispy fries during long-duration space missions. The experiment took place within a specially constructed chamber onboard an aircraft that repetitively follows parabolic arcs, thereby generating brief periods of weightlessness. Capitalizing on these intervals, the researchers achieved frying of potatoes in hot oil with outcomes comparable to those observed on Earth.
ESA has actively supported research in frying cooking techniques in microgravity to address knowledge gaps on both terrestrial and extraterrestrial fronts. While the frying of potatoes is a widespread culinary practice worldwide, it involves intricate aspects of physics and chemistry that become more complex in a space environment. The success of frying without the presence of gravity was not assured, as the absence of buoyancy could cause bubbles to adhere to the potato's surface, thus forming a steam layer that might lead to incomplete cooking and unappetizing results.
Professor Thodoris Karapantsios, a member of the research team from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, emphasizes that the physics and chemistry underlying food preparation constitute a captivating and multifaceted subject that extends across various scientific disciplines.
“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”, he said.
In order to investigate the influence of microgravity on frying and other cooking techniques, a pioneering experimental carousel-type apparatus was devised. This apparatus ensures safety while functioning in weightlessness. The experiments were conducted during two ESA parabolic flight campaigns, during which the aircraft executes repeated arcs to simulate brief episodes of weightlessness.
The frying process was recorded using a high-speed, high-resolution camera, which captured essential bubble dynamics parameters such as growth rate, size, and distribution, as well as the escape velocity of bubbles from the potato, their speed, and direction of movement within the oil. The temperature of the boiling oil and the internal temperature of the potato were also measured throughout the experiment.
To guarantee safety, the experimental hardware is automated and enclosed, maintaining a constant pressure within the frying chamber to prevent leaks, oil sloshing, and minimize energy consumption during the heating process.
French Fries on Mars?
The researchers from the University of Thessaloniki, Greece, observed that vapor bubbles detached effortlessly from the surface of the potato shortly after it was immersed in the oil under low-gravity conditions, similar to the behavior observed on Earth. Although further investigation is required to refine certain parameters, these findings suggest that astronauts will have more than rehydrated food options available as they embark on expeditions to uncharted territories, including Mars.
John Lioumbas from the research team concluded that apart from enhancing nutrition and comfort for astronauts, the study of frying processes in space has the potential to yield advancements in diverse fields
“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.”
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