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Best Freeze-Dried Foods to Take Into Space

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Best Freeze-Dried Foods to Take Into Space

July 12, 2019

The food you’ll need for your next space trip is probably in your cupboard already, or no further away than your local grocery store. Overthinking the mission is an easy mistake to make. After all, the journey from launchpad to orbit will take you only around 250 miles from earth, so you’re barely leaving the neighborhood. In theory, you could travel light and lift off with a pack of trail mix and some power bars, but there’s no need to leave your favorite dishes behind. Here are some of the best freeze-dried foods to pack...


A Short History of Space Food

Be thankful that you’re no longer traveling during the grim culinary years of the early space missions. The first meal consumed in space by astronaut John Glenn in 1962 was a splodge of apple sauce. It took years for things to get better. Early space food was cubed, powdered, or squeezed through a tube. Later missions favored the military-style system, with food packed into pouches and sucked through a straw. Like the technology, the sophistication of food on space missions has improved enormously. Today’s International Space Station (ISS) astronauts have more than 200 food and beverage items to choose from, largely thanks to freeze-dried food. 


Preparing Freeze-Dried Food on Board 

Freeze-dried foods made their debut on Project Gemini. The ingredients were coated with a film of gelatin or oil to prevent crumbs and rehydrated with a short blast from a cold-water gun (hot water is now available for astronauts). These meals might not have hit every note in the taste buds, but they checked all the boxes for mission control: light, nutritious, and stable without refrigeration. Astronauts simply had to open the food pouch with a pair of scissors and add water. The only drawback was that, due to weightlessness, individual food items couldn’t be plated together, so astronauts had to finish each pouch before opening the next course.


Space: Where the Food Is Out of This World

If it weren’t for the lack of gravity in space, all menu options would be on the table. As it is, most are floating around in mid-air. Nevertheless, astronauts can chow down on classics such as mac and cheese or spaghetti; they can even enjoy scrambled eggs for breakfast and pudding for dessert. Freeze-drying can accommodate any dietary requirement, so those on a vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free journey can enjoy their favorite dishes in space, too. Outer space can be as farm-to-fork healthy as your local Whole Foods. 


International Flavors Welcome

Astronauts on the ISS receive a food delivery every 90 days. In among the universally popular stews, curries, and pasta dishes are some surprising national flourishes. The menu for Russian cosmonauts, for example, includes freeze-dried fish for breakfast, and they rarely leave Earth without borshch, schchi, or rassolnik soup for rehydration. China’s first astronaut arrived with kung pao chicken and yuxiang shredded pork, while Japanese astronauts brought sushi, ramen, rice, and yokan bean jelly. Ironically, the military-style MRE would not make it onto the shortlist. These meals typically contain too much salt and fat to meet the astronaut’s nutritional needs. 


Foods to Leave Behind

Some foods cannot go into space. No sachets of salt and pepper for a start, or indeed anything that’s brittle or likely to produce crumbs; these foods foul up instruments and air filtration systems. Bread is out, but soft tortillas are very popular. Foods with a high sugar content (jams and jellies) lose some of their appeal when freeze-dried, often turning into an underwhelming sticky mess. Bear in mind, too, that when no steam rises up from the food, taste and aroma take a pounding in space. Neither is there the option to douse bland food with hot sauce.


Space Food for Terrestrials

Given that the number of people who have traveled into space is still only around 550, it might be better to explore other options for freeze-dried meal prepping. Luckily, the options are enormous. The same freeze-dried foods that travel to the galley of the ISS also feature on sailing, ocean rowing, camping, and ultramarathon expeditions. In fact, any situation where you want to travel light without compromising on calories is ideal for freeze-dried food. Just add water, after all. The advantage is that you don’t have to worry about extremes of temperature while the food is in storage, and you can keep each pouch or packet for a couple of years (at least). Without bacteria, the food can never be contaminated, although the nutritional value and taste will lessen over time.


As long as you’re prepared to give up thick-cut steaks and crisp, chunky fries for the time being, freeze-dried food can be almost as satisfying and tasty as your normal menu. On those long, cold evenings orbiting the planet, a warm stew or comforting pasta dish can be just what you need to lift your spirits.

Written by Nick Marshall for Knockaround.

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