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Cooking in zero gee

Over the past quarter-million years of human cultural evolution, we have developed quite an extensive repertoire of techniques for preparing and cooking food at the bottom of a gravity well.

However, following a discussion last night, I'm wondering what cooking techniques are we going to need to develop if we ever end up flying long-duration space missions that grow their own food?

To clarify: space missions to date have almost entirely subsisted on processed rations shipped up from Earth — glorified airline meals, in effect. Cooking mostly consists of mixing, heating, and eating. But one of the standard recurring ideas that crops up in discussions of missions to Mars or beyond is the idea of growing food in a closed-circuit life support system. Even if it's just a supplement for canned rations, the ability to grow and harvest rice, soya beans, a handful of herbs, and possibly a tank full of tilapia, is going to introduce some interesting complications into a space mission. Raw food (fruit and some vegetables) is an obvious way to avoid confronting the question, but in the long run it's not going to be good for morale. So what can we do in the free fall kitchen?

Assume, for the sake of argument, that it is impractical to build a kitchen in a rotating artificial gravity section of a spacecraft; we then have the question of how to cook food in free fall. Certain technologies we take for granted are probably highly dangerous in that context — naked flames don't work the way we intuitively expect them to. Water and other liquids' behaviours are dominated by surface tension effects: the idea of sharing a kitchen with an uncontrolled floating multi-litre blob of boiling water or frying-hot oil (which can break up and drift apart if prodded too hard) doesn't bear thinking about. Knives won't cut properly if the knife-wielder and the target aren't braced.

It seems to me that it's possible that new types of food preparation tool or appliance will be needed, and some techniques will be seen as much easier and safer than others. Sous-vide requires food to be bagged and immersed in hot working fluid at temperatures up to 70 degrees celsius — it's inherently safer than trying to fry or boil. A pressure cooker should be safe to operate as long as the air pressure inside the kitchen doesn't fluctuate wildly. And heated drum mixers (think in terms of a tumble driver for food) may be workable for roasting. But I've got a feeling that there are a lot of other ideas out there that haven't been explored yet. Is interplanetary flight going to be the impetus for the next wave of pioneering cuisine?



For a year at college I cooked in a microwave. It's amazing what you can prepare in that thing, if you're willing to sacrifice texture.


Water and other liquids' behaviours are dominated by Sous-vide requires food to be bagged and immersed in hot working fluid at temperatures up to 70 degrees celsius — it's inherently safer than trying to fry or boil.

This sentence seems to have been scrambled.


any recipes that have been converted to microwave ovens should work well ..

grilling / toasting with a radiant heat source should also work well .. for instance i can see a gyros working in 0-gee in (and a doner kebab does not need the greens to be cooked - just washed and sliced)

baking in a hot air oven should work well, as the hot air is force-moved by a ventilator (breads and cakes, for instance, but also roasted meat and veggies)




Lots of toast with the radiant heat sources too.

And contact cookers such as that old student favourite the Toastie-maker, more modern variants such as the panini-maker and the George Foreman griller ought to be OK.

Various of these might need springs fitted to press the parts together in place of gravity working on the heavy top, but they're relatively easy changes.

I'm not sure how the pizza oven works, but I'm pretty sure part of that is contact heating and the lack of convection might make the hot air cooking part that I assume is going on work better.

Lack of convection currents as cold air fails to fall might make other hot air cooking devices work nicely. You'd need something to contain the hot air I guess, but possibly much lighter than the elements of a modern oven (it will still tend to expand thanks to pV=nRT). I suspect it's one that might work but hasn't been tried because it's more weight-efficient not to on short trips and at the moment every extra kilo is expensive. But you'd make the effort to try it and test it for a Mars mission, certainly for longer and bigger ones.

I'm guessing we're looking more at adapting existing technologies a little than radically new ones, although nothing wrong with some of them too.


Any form of cooking that relies on radiant heat will work well, as will almost any kind of pot roast:just replace the original pot with an oven-proof pressure cooker- it will also cook faster as a result. Also anything that uses moving hot air.

Anything that requires whisking or vigorous stirring will be problematic- you'll probably want to do that in a sealed container, and at least for whisking it might create some serious problems(all heated cooking will obviously be in sealed vessels). Also, no stove tops, not even electric ones: they rely on the fact that the food stays put at the bottom of the cooking vessel, and I suspect ovens for cooking will be both safer all around anyway, since if something gets spilled you have a chance to stop the various droplets from spreading before they get into the general airspace, and use volume and energy better. This will create problems with making caramel, for example, but in a shorter mission you can probably simply stock up on sweets and in a multi-generation mission, if one ever gets relevant, you could put aside a small area of the rotating section for "delicacy kitchen" if that's an issue.

PS.your link from "Sous Vide" is broken


I'd want a pretty sophisticated system to capture the fat and other cooking fluids if I was grilling a steak in my George Foreman in zero gravity. Assuming I could butcher my space cows effectively of course.


Talk of pizza and pannini and similar presupposes that dough rises controllably in free fall. I think that's an interesting topic that will probably ultimately be answered by several doctoral theses, because it's at a gnarly intersection between the physical chemistry of emulsions, diffusion of gases and liquids, and the growth of yeast cells in a culture medium. For example, while bread dough is rising, the yeast produces a small amount of ethanol as a metabolic by-product; this diffuses out (and in particular it evaporates from the surface of the loaf), but in free fall we lose convection as a cooling mechanism and as a driver for diffusion ... what are the consequences?


No yeast bread is pretty easy to make, using vinegar and baking soda. There's no proving time for the dough, after kneading it can go straight in the oven, but not at all sure what the resultant loaf would look like.


Most terrestrial cooking is based on applying heat to the outside of the object to be cooked for sufficient time for it to reach the core. At which point the object is 'cooked'. One way to go in zero gravity might be to work in reverse - cook from the inside out by inserting electric heating elements into the object to be cooked. Like a spit roast, but with the heat coming from the spit.


It's an interesting puzzle, but I think the smart money is already on "Humans as we know them cannot survive for extended periods in freefall", so this is kind of a moot point. If we're talking about non-baseline humans anyway, mod them to not require cooked food.

More interesting is what cooking-like industrial processes (things that could be automated without physically adjacent meat-sacks overseeing operations) don't work without simulated gravity. But isn't the cost of adding gravity pretty low, compared to just about everything?


I wonder how many plants would become edible by virtue of being grown in zero-G? Given there's much less need for laying down lignin or cellulose or other essentially structural and indigestible tissue. Willow-twig salad anyone?


I'm working on the twin assumptions that (a) for multi-month to multi-year exploration missions (e.g. a trip to Mars) we may send meatsacks, and (b) that rotating pressurized toroids will be too damn expensive at first to store cooking ranges -- they'll initially be sized for sleeping quarters and exercise machines only. So on a vehicle like Nautilus-X the preparing-food-in-free-fall problem may be a real issue.

Obviously this doesn't apply to either the non-meatsack posthuman space scenario or the humans in a giant spinning hollowed-out asteroid scenario.


Question: where do your vinegar and baking soda come from? (Substituting ingredients is fine as long as you can account for where the replacements originate ... vinegar, I shall note, has its own fermentation process and problems, so in this instance we're just pushing back the deployment of yeast one stage. Unless you're proposing to add chemosynthesis of acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate to the life support requirements of our spacecraft ...)


I think that once people actually start moving into space - producing their food and living their lives there - then they will build space kitchens that work pretty much as gravity-well kitchens. To cut and dice you need bracing, e.g. foot-loops, and something to catch your cuttings so they don't float around, maybe an air-stream.

Streaming air will fix many of the cooking issues as well. It's like the kitchen fan, but stronger and more controlled. For cutting it goes down, through the cutting-board, thus holding stuff in place. For cooking it goes up, making convection work properly.

Frying is a problem, but either you use double sided fryers, or you just have a net to hold your stuff down. If you absolutely need flame, the combination of pressurised flame and streaming air should make it controllable.

Then, as Charlie writes, there is pressure cooking and sous-vide, both of which will work well. Finally, as someone else wrote, microwaves - and ovens for that matter - will still work. Steam-ovens do a brilliant job where you normally boil stuff.

The question is to have a kitchen, a proper area for cooking, then you can do pretty much anything.


There's plenty of non-rise breads the world over. That by itself is not really a problem.

And I think a combination of microwave and hot air oven; enclosed sandwhich/waffle iron-type gadget for frying; and enclosed sous-vide pot for most other cooking would all work in weightlessness and be versatile enough to make use of any ingredients you have with enough variation to avoid boredom.


While you're right and it does rely on assuming that dough rises predictably in free fall and I didn't think of that when writing my first, very inexpert, opinion is that it would continue to do so.

Dough actually rises not all that controllably on Earth - we proof small amounts of dough in larger containers to let it fill them in only one direction rather than spreading in all directions. We bake things in trays and tins to prevent them spreading sideways. Those tactics should work in zero-g.

And while gravity might have some impact on the rising, I'm pretty sure we'll find the contrasts of pressure from CO2 bubbles and the elasticity of the dough are the major forces affecting the system. We would probably find bread forms higher arches on the top as you bake it, possibly we'd have to bake more squarer loaves than the style that gives you the roughly cloud-shaped top, so the shapes might change, but I'd guess it would work OK. Experimental evidence to contradict me welcome!

And while you'll lose the convection circuits, as I understand it hot gases will still diffuse out into colder ones. The exchange might be less efficient than convection but there will be something going on. Fan assisted ovens cook more efficiently on Earth, maybe a slightly different process will also work, blowing cooler air in from the sides and bottom to simulate a convection current.


Assuming some system with directed steam, zero-g might be a great place for dumplings- wrap whatever you want in dough and steam 'till it's done. All tidy. Try gooey sauces...


Come to think of it, there's more ways to denature protein than heat- ceviche, anyone?


Murray Leinster thought about this in his surprisingly readable 1953 book Space Platform (which to my surprise is on Project Gutenberg).

His solution? Saucepans with inflatable teflon balloons inside the lid. The saucepan clips to the cooker, and the balloon presses the food down against the bottom of the saucepan.

Well, you can't win 'em all.


Okay, one major thing to not overlook- what technique lets us malt the barley in zero-g?


I think that any attempt to heat animal or vegetable matter to over the boiling point of water is that steam and water do not separate in zero g. So, bubbles of steam in water, which with enough bubbles begins to look like one of the classic insulator designs, foam. I think that cooking using a fan oven, with a filter for the air (and any bits in it), would fail, or at least cook inconsistently and unsatisfactorily from a hygene point of view.

Microwaves, cooking at less than 100c or pressure cookers look like viable solutions. Pressure cookers carry a risk of rupture, which could present a threat to spacecraft survival. Microwaves and low temperature cooking seem consistent with these problems.


Well, I guess one of the first tool of cooking would be the centrifuge, and the equivalent of our current stove will be a "wall" mounted magnetical attachment with a rotating motor (and maybe and inductive element for heating the pot, without free flames or scorching hot exposed plates).

It probably will not need to give a full 1 G of gravity for most preparations, it will be a matter of experiment determine the optimal spin rate for different foods.

Also, sealed containers for preparation would be a must: you do not want scorching hot fluids, like boiling water or frying oil droplets, and other food preparations floating around uncontrolled.
Kitchens are already a very dangerous place on the ground, were dangerous materials generally stays put, free fall would make them even worse.
I guess the kitchen area will resembe one of those aseptical sealed enclosures with integral gloves you find in biological laboratories.

Said that, I guess that free fall, in some chef creative hands, will lead to some new preparations simply impossible to realize in gravity.
For example, like the old theory about growing ultrapure crystals in microgravity, maybe you will be able to prepare some interestingly textured foods with things like whipped cream, ice cream , souffles and so on.

I think these guys will have some interesting years as soon as (if) we will have the first free-floating luxury hotels... it could even become one of the major attractor to such places together with the prospective of trying 0-G sex (and expecially if, like I heard, it will come out that 0-g sex it's going to be not so much fun after all).


My local chip shop has a bottle of vinegar-flavourish "non-brewed condiment" on the counter next to the pickled eggs. I have no idea what horrid industrial process is used to create the acetic acid, but presumably it isn't fermentation.


English is my first language. I think that one of the problems with cooking to over 100 centigrade (the boiling point of water) would be bubbles of steam in water serving as an insulator.
Perhaps it might be possible to blow the bubbles off with a strong enough air stream, but that could result in very dry food.


I doesn't look like anyone else has addressed cultured meat, so here it is. Delicious fish-tumors!


Andy, I agree. For several months (albeit several years ago) I ran the Employees canteen at Jaeger in London with nothing but a microwave and an electric kettle.


Why don't you just flaunt your literary credentials and ask the guys who wrote Modernist Cuisine on that matter? If there is anyone who could potentially have grasped the essence of cooking to the degree it takes to competently answer this question, it's people who studied cooking scientifically. They did and put it down in a 2400 page tome.

Being an author gives you certain (very limited, but still) privileges over the rest of us folks and this might just be one way to put them to use.


How do you make flour? I've visited flour mills, which tend to be dusty places, and sometimes explode (fuel-air explosions). Milling flour in zero-G (and presumably limited space) might not be trivial…


A lot of what's being talked about here is effectively new methods of playing with pre-packaged foodstuffs from Earth, rather than dealing with cooking-from-scratch of fresh foods grown on shipboard. I suspect a lot of this is because of the difficulties involved in processing food from scratch. If we take Charlie's little list (rice, soya beans, herbs, aquacultured fish) and look at the processing requirements for the products of such things, it quickly becomes apparent these processing steps need to be considered in terms of zero-gee adaptation as well.

For example, if we just stick with our fish - first catch them. Then scale them. Scaling fish, by the safest method I know, requires a certain amount of bracing of the fish against a flat surface, and then scraping the back of a blunt knife (usually a bread and butter knife) against the grain of scale growth up the length of the fish. There's a reliance on gravity to ensure the released scales fall down (and even then, fish scales are light little things and they get *everywhere*). Scaling fish when you have a fan blowing in the kitchen is a right whatsit. I'd hate to be trying to scale fish in zero gee. So fish fillets (which require the fish to be scaled and then skinned) are pretty much off the menu. Whole roasted fish in parchment or foil? Well, that's one way of avoiding the whole "scales" problem (or rather of putting the whole question off until after the fish is cooked - the scales just stick to the wrapping material. Or at least, they do in conventional cooking. I'm not sure whether things would work the same in zero gee. Either way, I'd hate to be the first person to try experimenting with it (I'd also not be too keen on sharing airspace with them, either - as I said earlier, fish scales get *everywhere*). Gutting fish requires both knife and fish to be braced against a surface. I wouldn't be overly keen on sharing airspace with fish guts, either.

Rice is a grain. In order to be edible, grains need to be removed from their husks - a process known as "threshing". Most forms of threshing around the world rely on gravity in one way or another to separate the heavier grain from the lighter husk. Brown rice is husked rice which still has the germ shell on it. White rice is husked rice which has been polished to remove the rice germ.

Soya beans? Need to be shelled at the very least. Tofu, as far as I'm aware, requires the beans to be dried, ground, and reconstituted with sufficient water to create soy "milk", and then for the soy protein in the milk to coagulate (tofu is effectively soya "cheese"). Most methods for creation of this are created with gravity in mind, because a certain amount of pressure is required in order to encourage the curds to separate from the whey.

It might be possible to grow salad greens onboard a zero-gee ship, given enough access to daylight - things like the various types of lettuce. Those at least can be torn up to make bite size portions.

Plus, all of these "fresh foods" create waste products. Fish guts (at the very least; plus the scales if we can figure out a way of keeping them from floating loose in the air supply), rice husks and stalks, bean pods and stalks, lettuce roots - what happens to all of those? Here on earth, we treat the wastes as compost fodder (if we're in a no-waste environmental model), but I doubt any research has really been done into whether composting organisms can survive in zero gee, much less reproduce or thrive in the numbers necessary to handle the volumes of waste which would be produced.

In modern WEIRD society, a lot of us are very much removed from the whole business of pre-processing food, and so I think we forget how much work (and waste) is involved there.


>>>>rotating pressurized toroids will be too damn expensive at first to store cooking ranges

Charlie! Tether. Hook. Counterweight. Problem solved.


Forced convection should work fine for fluids - just add an impeller to the sealed pan. Boiling water will then nicely flow around the food and transfer heat.

Heating. While airflow solves the flame problem, I doubt naked flames are a good idea in a spacecraft. In addition the the previously mentioned microwaves and hot plates, add radiant heating. This is off-the-shelf technology.

I suspect that the problems will not so much be the cooking mechanism, but rather the modifications to the kitchen space to make it easy to cook "on the fly". For example, a sealed pot that is easy to place and hold without needing to lock it down. Maybe there are some mods for sailboat kitchens than might be appropriate.
When I cook, I like to see, feel and taste the food as I go, allowing me to add ingredients when needed. How can that convenience be offered when pots and pans need to be sealed? Perhaps certain ways of cooking will not be possible, while others that rely on less attention may come to the fore.

If all ingredients have to be made from scratch, e.g. fermentation products, then bioreactors should work, although I would be concerned about the mass penalty. Ay some point one has to wonder if putting the kitchen in the rotating ring might not be the most mass efficient way to go.


When I worked in the supplements shop, one thing we sold was a can of soup that heated instantly by chemical reaction. That's basically a self-heating MRE, though, and not quite in line with the parameters of the question. Also, it's just a bad idea: lots of weight, lots of waste, for little reward.

Sous-vide is a good idea, as is the portable heating element idea. (This also works in an oven: if you ram a clean nail through a raw potato before baking, it will bake more quickly and evenly.)

Fermentation as cookery also works. In a sealed environment, your kimchi's native bacteria will stifle the growth of any foreign microbes. Ditto miso, soy sauce, etc. In fact, I think that in this situation, pickling and fermenting would be the first adjuncts to packaged foods. There's also the ceviche/sushi method mentioned above. I'm not sure how much bacteria would accumulate on vat protein, but adding some acid would make it a hell of a lot tastier.

What you really need to make this sustainable, though, is a reliable heating method that doesn't draw obscene amounts of power and doesn't spray food everywhere. You need a built-in device. That might be an oven or a microwave. What I think would be really interesting is a device that harnesses ambient radiation outside the ship, and use it to heat food. Basically, I'm thinking of something like a little porthole that channels the rads into a reflector chamber that maintains a persistent temperature. Solar ovens work on this principle, but you'd obviously need to adapt it for this scenario.

Even if that particular idea wouldn't work, the heating device would have to be a community oven, and you'd sign up for timeslots. This is an ancient practice, and its lineage manifests in several of our oldest recipes for slow-cooked stews, breads, and so on. This way you only have one or two devices that can fail, rather than individual units that might short out or cause a fire. You can manage the risk by isolating it. Also you can ration more effectively by introducing competition for the heat source.


Thinking about pizza, you want to have food which glues itself together before cooking. Otherwise, in the case of pizza, you will have melted cheese droplets above boiling tomato sauce drops. Additionally the problem of cutting things leads naturally to the question, will it blend.

On the other hand, spin coating should work at least for the right combination of adhesion and cohesion. So for a specially designed dough it may be possible to get something like a pancake.

Putting the two ideas together, it should be possible to design a burrito assembly process. First the filling is prepared in a mixer (and possibly heated in the same device) and then spread over the pancake.


ISTR that Alfred Bester wrote an article about this for Analog in the eighties, his feeling seemed to be that there would be problems, not least with life support getting overloaded by e.g. garlic util the whole ship smells.


And heated drum mixers (think in terms of a tumble driver for food) may be workable for roasting.

I'd actually be surprised if they did -- a big part of what gets your mixing effect (and therefore your even heating) in a clothes dryer or coffee roaster is the part of the cycle where stuff gets pushed to the top and then falls back down again -- in zero-gee you wouldn't have that effect.

For the same reason, closed-container mixing as referenced in 5 would require some substantially new design parameters -- if you think long about the design of a blender or food processor you'll notice that they rely on food making its way to the bottom of the jar.

On a side note, I had a long think a while ago about what it would take to brew beer in microgravity for an abortive story idea, and I came to conclusion that it might not be possible, at least in a small-scale, few-purpose-built-parts way. The biggest problem I came across is where the CO2 goes -- you're going to have to brew in a closed container; the usual terrestrial method involves sticking an airlock on the top and letting the excess gas to filter out; this has the added advantage of reducing the partial pressure of oxygen above the surface of the wort and thus reducing oxidation. In zero-gee there's no up for the bubbles to go. You'd at least need a purpose-built fermenter-slash-centrifuge to even think about it.


We had planned to do a series of Kamikaze Cookery episodes with food being cooked at increasing degrees of verticality. (Sailor's breakfast, beam reach: hob at 45°, sailor's breakfast close-hauled: hob at 70°, mountaineer's breakfast: 90°.) This sounds like much more fun to experiment with, but I suspect the budget would be prohibitive.

Arthur C Clarke said in 2001 that all you needed to do was make food with a sticky sauce so it didn't come off the plate. I always thought that was oversimplistic.


Yeah, because nobody's ever spilled a plate of curry, Art.


And what of the space chickens and space slaughter houses? Somehow I suspect that cutting the throat of a chicken on the ISS in the interests of science might not go down too well in the PR dept.


Concur that microwave cooking is a lot more flexible than it's usually thought of as being. It's just the thing for vegetables in most cases, and even works for poultry and some cuts of pork if you use it for par-cooking followed by finishing with radiant broiling or hot-air convection.


Already commercially available a relatively closed plant-growing environment - saw this on PBS, Discovery, or similar network. Plants grow inside a completely enclosed spinning glass/acrylic cylinders with the roots facing out and the plant facing in. The cylinder wall contains a mash (liquid nutrient mix) and the cylinder centre is an array of grow-light bulbs. Day-night cycles are adjustable. Overall, very little waste.

'Cooking' - consider taking a closer look at what you mean by cooking. We mostly 'cook' to tenderize foodstuffs to make it easier for our guts to absorb nutrients. Freezing/thawing will do this too as will appropriate spices and pressure (salt, press between boards, wait -> lox), plus you get the bonus of reducing the amount of water and energy used. To freeze - place food in re-usable 'baggies', open the hatch/door and wait a few seconds. Remove excess water. To serve, heat the water-reduced food to the appropriate temperature.

We also cook to get rid of germs - this shouldn't be necessary in a closed environment. But if it is, then flash UV-irradiation should do the trick and is also low-energy.

Can't think of anything off-hand for cooking to meld flavours or alter chemical bonds (i.e., fudge vs. candy stage). For bread-lovers - try potatoes which can be grown and processed as per above. Wine and fortified spirits should be fairly easy to make too.

Because energy and water conservation are key, it would be extremely wasteful to allow individuals to make their own meals - so a cafeteria operation would be likeliest. Since most of this planet seems to be eating fast food regularly anyway, the cafeteria model probably wouldn't be a hard-sell provided you can get enough grease to stick to classic comfort foods (i.e., fries, deep fried chicken). 'From-scratch' cooking would be very expensive and reserved for the wealthy.


When boiling or simmering liquids, we could use a magnetic stirrer. They're commonly used in laboratory environments, and are a mature technology. Put an easily-cleaned stir bar in the pot with the ingredients and water before sealing the lid, and then use a rotating magnetic field to move the stir bar. This would keep the liquid moving past the heating element, simulating convection and reducing thermal gradients. No gaskets to leak or wear out, and no crevices for debris to get trapped in.


Frying's out, even with an enclosed deep-fat fryer: hot oil droplets detatching from the surface of the food will still be dangerous... And unpleasant, even after they've cooled down.

Floating droplets containing chilli or garlic oil will be no fun at all in zero-g, unless the crew wear safety goggles, 24/7.

But the big danger with frying will be aerosols: just like flour (mentioned by Robert @ 28), this is a fuel-air explosion hazard.

That, in turn, moves us to the dangers of powdered ingredients in general: so no icing sugar, cornflower, powdered spices; or dried herbs, even. All flavour-enhancing ingredients, and some staples like flour, will need to travel as oils or pastes.

Dry powders are *dangerous* in zero-gee: in addition to the fire and explosion hazard, spillages and handling losses can drift into sensitive machinery, circuitry, lungs and eyes. So no chilli powder or red pepper, then.

...But pastes are heavy, as they are at least half water, and that's a costly penalty. It strikes me that essential oils and very sophisticated dosage-measurement , dilution, and mixing equipment will be part of the zero-gee kitchen.

Of necessity, I think that rice and pasta will be cooked in heavy pressure vessels with wet steam and an impeller: this might work well if the right strain of rice (or durum wheat) is chosen to avoid sogginess and clumping. But we're talking complex equipment with a worrying mass penalty, here.


There are already thresher designs that use the inertia of the grains rather than their weight to separate them from the chaff (google "centrifual thresher" for examples). Imagine a squirrel-cage blower in reverse; you blast compressed air into the sides of a rotating perforated drum; chaff gets blown towards the centre, while grains are flung to the periphery.


Actually, I don't think you'd want boiling water at all, as that would defeat the purpose of boiling as it's used now. Boiling is useful for eliminating water and/or for creating a consistent cooking temperature. Boiling water stays at a constant temperature (for a given atmospheric pressure), with water vapor, being hotter, leaving the region where cooking is taking place. Steam trapped in the water would create temperature inconsistencies and would eliminate both reasons for boiling.


It's the micro-nutrients, i.e., sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, selenium, etc. that are the limiting factor. You'd need to ensure sufficient initial stores, plus recovery and replenishment methods.


"We mostly 'cook' to tenderize foodstuffs to make it easier for our guts to absorb nutrients. Freezing/thawing will do this too "

How are you so sure? The nutritional effects of cooking are not that well understood - except that raw food fanatics tend to be emaciated. Besides gross physical tenderizing, there's probably protein denaturing and a bunch of other things.

Then there's the psychological/social side of living off food that's freezer-burned rather than cooked...

Someone else suggested modifying people so they wouldn't require cooked food...seems to me this involves modifying their brains as well as a substantially bulkier digestive system.


I've only read the first 8 or so comments, so apologies if I'm repeating anything.

My first thought was Sous-vide, I'm picturing a sealed unit,  sort of like a baby bottle with a plastic liner (can't think of a better example), but with the liquid around the liner, and the food goes into it, is sealed off and the air pumped out. Unless the liner leaks the liquid can remain contained.

There are already combo microwave/convection ovens. The main issue with it would be to have the air circulation system filtered to catch any juices that go floating.

Stovetop cooking might seem impossible, but perhaps with an induction system and covered aluminum pans. They'd have to have some small magnetic spot (or something) on them to keep in place, but not so strong as to make it hard to remove and give a shake/stir. Saucing would be difficult, maybe the lid could have a valve for a squeeze bottle, and give a squirt. Perhaps air could be sucked out of the lid to insure contact with the bottom of the pan, let air in to stir, then remove air again, also the lid would keep heat in.

Mixing dry ingredients will be difficult. I can't see flour being sifted too easily. Some kind of sealed device, maybe spins it through a mesh, or a vacuum system, though neither might not work well. So, maybe no bread baking, though a spherical loaf could be interesting. Most gluten-free breads don't need to be kneaded, and are often more of a batter, rather than a drier dough, which might send bits off to cause trouble.

Cutting's not that much of a problem. An electric knife and a cutting board to hold whatever against. The problem will be crumbs and other bits floating off.


Sort of a meta-comment, but it occurs to me that, before setting off to Mars or wherever, you'd want to be sure that the generally good ideas in this thread actually work. To be really sure of that, as well as to identify obscure but bothersome second-and third-order effects would require, I think, real long-term experimentation in space. Perhaps a Bigelow culinary development module at ISS?


Just had the thought of doing cutting and mixing in something like a glove-box.
Again, sorry if I'm repeating anything.


For knives: perhaps something enclosed, like those chopping gizmos they sell on late night television, except double-sided?


Cooking in zero ghee? Has anyone told the Indian space program?


And chips . We got a hot air chip 'fryer'
So we can have kebab and chips ....
Do we get lager as well?


Wonder if u could soda stream the co2 in to the dough?


'Cooking' (usually meaning raising the internal temperature) destroys cell walls thus releasing nutrients. Cell wall bonds can also be destroyed chemically using acids or detergents. If you ever use wine for marinating your roast, you're actually already 'cooking' because the acid/alcohol denatures the cell walls.

Appearance and mouth-feel of foods have also been commercially addressed. The small hams with the nicely scored skins available at your local grocery chain are actually made using a process very similar to that used for making sausages. (Consider how small the porker would have to be to yield such dainty hams.) Getting a nice 'crust' has also been addressed: coat with a sugar/spice/fat mixture then pass under sufficiently high heat for a few seconds.

My comments are based on being able to 'survive' long-term. My info is based on a combination of my undergrad, work I've done for food manufacturers plus technical and popular media. I have no idea how cooking-related chemical reactions are affected by an in-space environment, so everything else is speculation.

There are textbooks and cookbooks available that specifically discuss the chemistry of cooking.


I think a crock-pot would be a common thing. Sous-vide without the fancy sealing of the food within. People have mentioned pot roast type things and this falls within that.

Grains are out for reasons already mentioned, except possibly corn (pollen == still a problem). I suspect any food growing would have to be in an airlocked environment essentially separate from the rest of the ship. Even then, corn drying as preservative method is a Bad Idea.

I suppose a closet engineered as sort of the interior of a shop vacuum would work as a prep area but it would need frequent cleaning and most likely clean-room gear or spacesuits (functionally pretty similar) for the people working therein, to keep pollen dust and whatnot from spreading. These would need to be stored inside the air lock itself, with a bunch of cleaning/filtration stuff to keep the suits from contaminating the rest of the ship/station/what have you.

Likely you would have a chain of rooms like so: growing area -> prep room -> cleaning area -> rest of wherever. It's a significant space hog in all three sections, particularly due to the need to clean obsessively (requires room to work in).


Great topic!

Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:

1. I think molecular gastronomy will come into its own, not just because people will be fooling around with stuff, but also because it's really going to scientific principles to derive new cooking techniques.

2. You've got all that nice vacuum and cold to use, so I suspect that many cooking techniques will utilize these. For example, if I recall properly, some molecular gastronomists are playing with using low temperature and low pressure to denature proteins. Normally we do this with heat, but you can get a lot of the same effects by deep freezing. Ditto with vacuum.

3. Low temperature cooking. You can already cook something by briefly heating it at high temperature, then putting it in a well-insulated box to finish cooking. These are currently called hay boxes, and they're similar to crock pots, except that there's a brief pulse of high heat, rather than a long application of low heat. Again, there's all this nice vacuum sitting around that can be used to prevent heat transfer, and there's no reason not to incorporate it into insulating food cooking devices.

4. Vacuum and distillation. Need I say more?

5. Solar cooking. Why not? If there's sunlight nearby, setting up a solar over would be trivial and useful.

4. I suspect that cooks in zero-gee won't use knives at all. They might use chopsticks though, as pinching is a good way to grab food. The standard eating set of the future may be chopsticks, scissors, syringe, and straw, rather than fork, knife, and spoon.


(Disclaimer: am a good "from-scratch" cook who's done so in some interesting places, like moutainsides, cycling trips, in engine compartments....)

A couple of easily adapted technologies are missing from this list.

1) The commercial paint mixer. It works by clamping a sealed container between to plates and vibrating/shaking (depending on settings) like crazy. Standard mixing techniques will adapt easily to this. You don't add extremely dry to extremely wet (takes longer to mix to a uniform consistency). but instead add ingredients in ratios that will blend easily, usually adding the wet to the dry, repeating until desired consistency is met. If you do this within a sealed pyrex vessel, you can also monitor the state of the blend (which lumps are hitting the walls, etc).
I find that shaking well-sealed containers is the most effective mixing method when you're short on either work space or standard kitchen tools. One one trip, I achieved both mayonnaise and well-toned triceps and forearms using this technique.

2) Use oversize vacuum-drawn syringes (bores of appropriate size) to draw both wet and dry ingredients out in measured amounts from sealed containers through valves. Keeps the ingredients contained.

3. Translucent silicone bags for dough-kneading and marinades. Silicone because doughs and other sticky items can't easily stick to the inside surface, take wildly fluctuating heat extremes and are thus much easier to use and clean, either by shoving out a port hole for a few seconds or within an air-directed wash chamber. (Dishwasher unit and/or a sealed wash area with a translucent window and gloves, along with air flow keeping the water pushed down towards a contained suction recycling device which filters the water and then recirculates it under pressure back towards a hand held nozzle, much like your current standard gravity-well sink nozzle unit.

4. Dough-kneading in a plastic or silicone bag (have used this technique camping many times). Under zero g you'd need to work one hand against the other (instant arm exercise!) or have your velcro booties on before pushing against another surface.

5. Dough baking is the least of your worries, unless you also wish to shape it into something close to what you're used to seeing from commercial bakeries. Bread doughs and stiffer sweet mixtures can be patted onto a spit (to keep it centered) and rotated in front of a curved electric radiant heater. (Think of roasting dough-boys on a stick over a fire at camp) The dough will expand evenly in all directions in a gravity free environment. A controlled mechanized air flow will be necessary to direct the heated air over the surface of the bread. The main issue may end being order of heat (do you use a hot air flow up a hollow tube spit for the first part of the bake to set up the structure inside of the bread first? And how to do you control how the crust crackles? I can see scope for some creative surface glazes.

Regarding where to heat up your sous vide or how to cook the thing - I can see scope for someone creatively doing a tandoori-style treatment on the outside of extremely hot engine cases. (perhaps a dicipline-able offense on a generation ship - for stinking up the entire ship?) Just sayin'....

Also, sweets and doughs that use molds that are dipped into the mixture (in a controlled airflow chamber to keep the mixture inside the opened vessel) and then quickly cooked under radiant heat have some possibilities. Think of ice cream cones and those german /austrian molded cookies (I don't know their name).

Pasta has scope (the dough mixture is extruded from a press) although you'd have to choose your sauces and other ingredients carefully. This is one environment where you want your dish ingredients to finish in a sticky state.

I can see fruit smoothies and ices (once you figure out how to grow small fruits in zero g) as being very popular. The first can be contained and sucked out, the second is frozen and can molded.


Tofu, as far as I'm aware, requires the beans to be dried, ground, and reconstituted with sufficient water to create soy "milk", and then for the soy protein in the milk to coagulate (tofu is effectively soya "cheese").

Not correct; we have a soya milk making machine and have made tofu from dried soya beans. They need soaking in water, then grinding/heating in water to produce soya milk. (The husk residue is a useful by-product which is itself edible.) The soya milk is then precipitated with nigari (magnesium chloride) and gently pressed into solid blocks and the remaining supernatant drained. I can see this being practical in zero gee -- indeed, I can see a contained machine for processing soya beans, water, and magnesium chloride into tofu blocks being practical -- although hulling the beans may be a problem and it does involve working with water-based emulsions at up to 70 celsius.


Well, ' We ' must consider the possibilities of Chinese Cuisine as well as .. maybe, given political and financial reality ..The Cuisine of the Indian Sub Continent but I wouldn't write off America just yet ..there just has to be room in Space ...Pigs in Spaceeeee !!!! ... for a pastiche of Nero Wolfe in a Locked Room Mystery. Consider This Charlie for I Deduce that you have read these books ...

“ You, gentlemen, are Americans, much more completely than I am, for I wasn't born here. This is your native country. It was you and your brothers, black and white, who let me come here and live, and I hope you'll let me say, without getting maudlin, that I'm grateful to you for it. ”

— Nero Wolfe to the black staff of Kanawha Spa in Too Many Cooks (1938), chapter 10 "

a Terrific novel, especially for those of the Politically Leftist Wing Persuasion....

Note the tightly cohesive space going societies of Jim Blishs ' -'Spindizzy ish ' magc Sparkly Pony Dust Drives of 'Cities in Flight ' Large ROCKs - of Slow Star Travel - and consider the virtues of Cookery as a Space Going Preoccupation that the VERY long lived, and Sensory Enhanced, Star Travellers might care to undertake to while away the DEEP TIME between the Solar Systems ..Tastes that WE just can't Imagine because we aren't equipped with the necessary senses?

So ..a Restaurant, that Really IS, at the Ends of Our Universe?


Pizza: probably not practical. But its close relative, calzone? That'd be another matter.


I don't know how well ink-jet printers work in zero-gee, but if they do, then we've got another great tool for making food. Molecular gastronomers already use inkjet printers using edible "inks," and I'd be surprised if someone doesn't figure out how to make a 3-D food printer that would work in zero-gee. The fun there would be figuring out how to make liquids and emulsions and feeding them into the printing cartridges.


> Pizza: probably not practical

Easy. Attach it to a baking tray-like device using integrated spikes/clips, and apply radiant heat. Use of cheese spread as opposed to grated cheese may be preferable. Toppings are another matter, though.


We also cook to get rid of germs - this shouldn't be necessary in a closed environment.

That's a rather 19th century understanding of human biology ...

You carry a payload of 1-5Kg of bacteria around in your gut and on your skin. The gut bacteria in particular outnumber the human cells in your body by three orders of magnitude. But they're pretty much essential to your ability to digest food; they extract micronutrients, break down indigestible matter, do a chunk of pre-processing, and keep pathogenic bacteria from gaining a foothold (most of the time) by out-breeding them.

We evolved in, and live in, a bacteria-saturated environment. Living in a sterile environment is, in fact, not very healthy for us; you can do it (flush yourself out with antibiotics, bake your skin with UV light, and go live in a class 1 aseptic area) but you'll be rather ill.


Well ..perhaps not. But this journalistic piece anticipates the Near future so lets not be too despondent . Mind you Pepperoni will be a bit of a challenge to Chefs in Space.


we sometimes stuck nails in our potatoes to get them to cook faster. maybe we could adapt that to space cooking. after defrosting your favorite item, you simply attach it to a small bed of nails that holds the food in place and heats it from the inside.

it also has the added benefit of providing a ready-made plot device for those boring long-duration space flights. i mean, you now have a real reason for having a room full of pointy things main characters can impale themselves upon.


Sodium Bicarbonate synthesis might not be required on the first mission anywhere interesting, but it will be important for just about any mission with a few dozen people or for longer durations. It is commonly-used as a part of emergency medical care for a number of acute conditions, and being able to manufacture or re-manufacture essential medical equipment will be needed.


UV irradiation will get rid of germs on the surface of food products. The problem is that a lot of them have stuff that lives inside and we want to kill that too. Only way I know to do that is to cook it- whether using heat(usual methods of cooking) or by some kind of chemical reaction(various methods of pickling). In addition we also cook to make foods safe to eat in other ways:potatoes, for example, contain various toxins that break down during heat cooking, thus rendering them safe to eat.


Humm, Well you know when i was a kid a drove two nails in a board, wired it to 110 and stuck hot dogs on it. Worked great, my mom hated it. Never could find out why. Put in temp probes that adjust the voltage and put it in a bag. This would not brown anything, alone.


Sorry for what may have looked like blatant and immoderate self-promotion on your soapbox. But I actually don't have an electronic copy of what I referred to, not know of it being at any web site. I admit that I was hoping that one of your readers interested in the subject of this thread might be able to assist me.


Has anyone considered the practically infinite amount of frozen food storage space available to the interstellar traveler? Simply sling bags of frozen microwave pizzas outside the ship, and cook them by gamma ray exposure as needed. In fact, the whole pizza eating, xbox playing, couch potato lifestyle could be seen as preparation for humanity's first interstellar leap,

come to think of it, would absolute zero turn pizzas to dust?
This needs some thought


From what I've read so far (and it has been a fascinating read) it seems to me that figuring out artificial gravity might be easier than finding a way to cook a decent steak at zero gees :)


As in get rid of E. coli types of germs not the good-for-digestion microbes. If live seed, plants and animals will be included on your spaceship, there's a risk of unwanted 'germs' that are potentially harmful to humans.


As far as roasting, rotisserie should work beautifully. It's purely radiant heat and has whatever is being roasted held firmly in place on a rod. You could have space-gyros.

Beer would be... interesting. Malting barley shouldn't be a problem (just needs to germinate then be terminated with heat) and you could easily mash and sparge using pressurized air to clear the mash tun (and probably a very slow centrifuge). The boil would be a problem though. That might need to be done in a centrifuge of some kind to contain the hot wort. Or maybe a pressure cooker? That would introduce problems adding hops though.

Any liquor fermentation would definitely need to take place in a centrifuge.


A very large proportion of commensal bacteria are E. Coli.

The good bacteria/bad bacteria thing is just marketing for yoghurt.


I'm approaching this exercise as food=nutrients rather than food=Michelin fare.

While we might grow foods whole, we'd process them into very small bits before 'cooking' them. I'm guessing that the energy needed to cook through a large steak or prime roast would be greater than to first chop/grind the meat into a paste and then cook it. Also, I'm guessing that the only meat protein likely to be available on the first trips would be either vat-grown tissue 'clones' or earthworms/grubs.

Has anyone figured out how to include dairy?


Forgive my ignorance and failure to check Google, but wouldn't sticking unshielded food out the airlock for a few minutes kill most of the nasties prior to cooking, especially if you figure out a way to evacuate the air in your container without losing the actual food? For that matter, I can imagine some interesting effects could be achieved by applying a gentle centrifuge to liquid concoctions in zero-gee - IIRC, I think ice crystals do fun fluffy things in microgravity...

Now I want to know what happens to a potato when you throw it into a vacuum... does it go kaboom or kersplat? If both, it's an easy way to get mashed potatoes!


Has anyone figured out how to include dairy?

Interesting. As you normally don't get milk from mammals until they've reproduced.

Which is why vegans knock the diary but no meat crowd. You have to do something with the 1/2 of the calves that are males.

But back to the point, you either take up full sized female animals that have already reproduced or breed them en route or get really big into freeze dried milk.


According to wiki there are good and bad bacteria - it's not just a marketing ploy. NASA should have data on what happens to gut bacteria in zero-g. If some types of bacteria die off and others overgrow, then the in-space diet would have to be tweaked.


NASA does have a PDF on Space Medicine - Chapter 9 is Digestion and Absorption, authors are Konstantin V. Smirnov and Aleksandr M. Ufolev.


> I'm approaching this exercise as food=nutrients rather than food=Michelin fare.

IMO, except for craggy-jawed astronauts performing daring feats of space exploration, that's the wrong approach. Space travel in the foreseeable future is unlikely to be all that pleasant an experience overall, so trying to make it better through the culinary route seems worthwhile and possibly important. As I recall, and I may not, the US Navy makes a point of feeding nuclear submarine crews well for the same reason.


Things get weird and contextual with bacteria, since they run the planet, juet as they have for the last five billion years (bacteria mediate some critical aspects of the global ecosystem). As someone said, bacteria keep you healthy while you're alive, and then eat you when you die.

As for brewing beer in space, it's an interesting question. Normally, yeast settles to the bottom at the end of fermentation, and standard brewing probably uses gravity in at least a half dozen other ways. What happens in zero gee? Do the yeast ferment a little zone of wort around them until they die of alcohol poisoning? Do you have to arrange some sort of stirring or circulation? What about the carbon dioxide produced? It's also an interesting question in fluid engineering, since you've got to process the malt into a fluid, then ferment it, then filter it, all without gravity to help you separate things out, and you need to keep it oxygen free for at least part of the process.


Actually the good/bad bacteria thing is pretty much an advertising ploy. And wikipedia isn't an ultimately reliable source. Although it's not a really good analogy, think of all the breeds of dogs (C. familiaris). They're all the same species but there are huge differences in size, colour, temperament etc.

E.coli species include a range of harmless commensals and several aggressively fatal variations as well as some that are just nasty but not usually fatal. But here the analogy starts to break down. Most of the differences are carried by plasmids, giving Lamarkian inheritance (more or less) with horizontal transmission. That particular bacterium that was harmless yesterday bumped into some of its neighbours, picked up the right (or wrong) combination of plasmids and is now likely to kill you. Obviously in the first world that doesn't happen very commonly, but there are a few deaths from EHEC and similar most years in most first world countries.

Granted there are some like S. typhi that are only rarely non-pathogenic in humans which could probably be called 'bad bacteria' without too much argument, but there aren't many, if any, purely "good" bacteria - they can almost always be pathogenic in a different serovar or with the odd new plasmid. Indeed it can be argued that S. typhi is actually just any other Salmonella with the Vi-antigen producing plasmid.


> Space travel in the foreseeable future is unlikely to be all that pleasant an experience overall, so trying to make it better...


Going totally off the food thread but kind of picking up from it, I found this pointed to on Boing Boing.



To a first approximation, it's the same problem as growing the barley in the first place.


That's really interesting/informative - thanks! So would this be something to keep an eye on during a long space mission? (I was originally thinking more about human hygiene among food preparers.)


Depending on the reliability and endurance of your space drive, you could schedule acceleration/deceleration to be simultaneous with food prep time. (This would probably work inside a solar system, but it might be problematic on an interstellar voyage.)

This is probably the easiest solution, and it makes sure that everyone gets to experience gravity at least once a day, which is probably a Good Thing.


You can use pressure to compensate for lack of gravity. And you can enclose everything to avoid the icky sticky disaster.

So you need a lot of sealed drums connected by an awful lot of sealed pipes all ending up in a micro Canadarm holding a self-loading version of a pastry bag. The idea is to program the arm to squirt out shapes that look more interesting than the coloured sludge Bowman and Poole were eating in 2001. A big inkjet printer might also work for certain designs.

But before all that you need to get pro cooks to start talking to engineers with an experience in Pipe network analysis and valve design for slurry fluids:

By the way I've been cooking with nothing but microwaves for the last 20 years. You don't totally give up texture when you use a microwave. You give up texture only for traditional dishes with precise strictures. You have to explore, and then you'll find other textures in other food preparations.


For the "theoretically possible but no way in hell" answer to getting dairy- the crew will likely be mammals. You can induce lactation. Male or female.


Something like an reverse ice cream mixer (usually a stationery drum with a rotating scraper/mixer blade) with the drum rotating fast enough to create centrifugal force might work for e.g. making soup. Heat the outside of the drum, put the ingredients inside, the blade mixes everything so you have something like a proper stirred soup (or whatever) rather than a heated sachet.


> we then have the question of how to
> cook food in free fall.

Quickly followed by the question of how you eat it in free fall.

Unless you want to fight an endless war on crumbs and odd droplets of liquid floating around, you're stuck with solids that won't fragment, things you can squeeze out of a bag, or things you can suck through a straw. That's going to put a crimp on your culinary style right there.

E.E. Smith brought up the question of eating in zero gravity way back in 1919 in "Skylark of Space", when he had one character suggest it wouldn't be a good idea to uncap a carbonated drink in zero gravity.


Octupi and squid grow well to provide tasty protein in long duration space flights. So, calimari for cooking, and baby octopus sushi does not need cooking. "There's a sucker born every minute."


D'oh! I got Induction cooking backwards, need to use non-aluminum pans. Somehow got that in my head wrong--should have done more than skim the wikipedia page I linked to. Surprised no one called me out on it.


diffusion is not driven by gravity. At very small scales the gravity is essentially irrelevant; the dough is going to work just fine (nonetheless there will be people doing doctorates on that topic).

Off top of my head, all the earth dishes will be easily doable in space (using pressure cooking style apparatus, and totally regular oven), some with addition of a small fan or a magnetic driven stirrer, some with more emphasis on radiant heat (or radiant heat combined with microwaves), and some in an appliance resembling a washing machine. A few might require extra components for binding. Space is 'backwards compatible' with gravity, as it is very easy to make your own gravity locally - your washing machine makes many g's of gravity.

The interesting topic is the dishes you could do in space which you could not do on Earth. You can't make zero gravity here, not for any length of time; earth gravity is not backwards compatible with space at all.


very good point.

Fortunately the whole thing is essentially moot in practice / matters only as a fancy story device, as the only thing stopping you from doing the 'artificial gravity' aka the very fancy notion of spinning part of your station, is a bit of extra structural weight.
Not very much, too - almost all of the strength requirement still comes from pressure even if you are doing 1 gee. One square metre at atmospheric pressure is under the force of Earth weight of 10 meters thick layer of water. Translation: It takes a giant 10 metre deep swimming pool until you start seriously wasting extra material for station to be strong enough to spin.


Some questions I'm wondering about; how big does a ship have to be in order to grow enough food for a crew of, say, six? How many acres of grain (or individual plants?) does it take for a pound of flour?

One obvious thing, the food has to already be growing well ahead of setting out on whatever mission, if you're going to rely solely on ship grown produce.


Why Do I suspect the answer to the question of "where does the alchohol produced by dough yeast in zero g go?" is "it stays in the bread"?

So you'll end up with with a lot of alcholic space-bread - I am not sure if this is a good thing, for instance it provides a cast iron defense against those smug quasi-singularitarian space-children that are all floating up there and constantly rubbing our faces in their enlightened evolutionary superiority, or a new and exiciting hazard of space travel that the human body is weak against i.e. on top of all the other developmental problems facing space pregnancies, you have to now factor in a steady supply of non-alcholic earth-bread for any multi-generational space activity.


Assuming top-of-range European grain yields for wheat, we can expect in excess of 10 tonnes per hectare of grain. Which is, conveniently, 10,000 kg from 10,000 square metres. Average yields are a little over 7 tonnes per hectare.

The USA uses bushels as a measure of grain yield. When you dig out the conversion figures, the averages given by the USDA run at about 3 tonnes per hectare. This is dragged down a bit by the USA planting around 10 million more acres than is actually harvested. On my knowledge of the margins in agriculture, I can't see how European farmers could survive operating with that much wastage.

My tentative conclusion is that anybody planning food growing in a space environment should avoid involving NASA and the Americans. They probably expect that they will be able to feast on Martian Turkeys provided by the natives.


Do bacteria ever lose the plasmids? Without that, I can't see how a "bad" bacteria can ever become "good".


What about the opposite thing? What kind of cooking you can do in zero-g that cannot be done on Earth? This would bring whole new angle to space tourism. Would Michelin Guide have to add fourth star for restaurants that are worth of space travel?


That idea sounds like a bastard cross of Top Gear with Masterchef, even before I looked at your website.

I am now imagining Clarkson. wearing a chef's hat, trying to deep-fry a Mars Bar when the cooker is bolted to the ceiling.


Mandolin slicers might make a good replacement for knives, especially ones where the action of the blade automatically forces the slice into a little receptacle -- devising a method of holding different types of fruit, vegetable and cooked or preserved meat in place so they don't float away seems relatively easy.


Hmm. Some other thoughts:

A lot of native North American foods seem to lend themselves to these constraints.

Making powder by grinding grain for flour is a no-no, but if you nixtamalize corn (cook it suspended in an alkaline solution) and then mash it, you get masa paste, which has about the consistency of Playdoh. You can use it to make tortillas (cook space-tortillas enclosed double-sided electric grill). Mix other foods into it and stick it into a small convection oven for tamales.

If you don't mash it, you have hominy, which is also edible and lends itself to a variety of treatments.

If you're going to grow rice, try wild rice -- assuming the plant can grow in your setup, harvest is easy. On Earth you paddle a canoe into a stand of the plants and use some sticks to gently bend the stalk, dropping the rice kernels into your boat. In microgravity, use a bag and/or handheld fans. It's also very nutritious, much moreso than hulled white rice.

Fish can be roasted in a convection oven on spits for an even, all-around cook. Bones get reprocessed; offal from the slaughter will need to be treated like other waste products. It also helps if these humans don't share the specifically Western taboos about what parts of a fish are edible -- the heads have lots of tasty parts too!

Squash would be interesting -- I don't know if they can be coaxed to grow in microgravity, and if they can the sprawling ground-cover method they prefer might be a liability, though regular trimming might help there. Still: squash, corn, peppers and beans all dry out very well; you can store them in bulk without loosening the seeds from their fixings or spreading too much debris around.

Shrimp and/or crayfish are yummy, but they're quite hard on a water table -- messy eaters who foul their water regularly. On top of that, their shells make eating a chore on Earth -- it's probably unrealistic to try and deal with an animal you have to crack and peel in orbit, which is a relief for the squeamish (or vegetarian) since they have to be killed by boiling (unless you immediately rip the tail off and freeze it, which is hardly better as far as the animal is concerned).

Clams and oysters though...They filter water, they're not nearly as much trouble to shuck depending on how you plan to eat them, their shells are another useful source of recyclable calcium, and they don't require much care.


Oops, forgot to add: clams and oysters are also not much trouble to cook, and can probably be handled by methods already discussed here.


Only way I know to do that is to cook it- whether using heat(usual methods of cooking) or by some kind of chemical reaction(various methods of pickling).

No, there are other ways to sterilize food.

Gamma irradiation from a cobalt-60 source has been used for sterilizing food and pharmaceuticals for decades -- it's very efficient, but the drawbacks are (a) mass of shielding required around the gamma source (it's fine on earth, but rather cumbersome aboard a spaceship), and (b) if you've got toxin-secreting bacteria like botulinum, then it'll kill the bacteria but doesn't degrade whatever toxins they've already secreted.

Another promising technique is pressure sterilization; put your food in a pressure chamber and rapidly crank it up to over 100 atmospheres, and most of the proteins in it will be denatured -- that is, their tertiary structure will be disrupted, they'll still be digestible and edible as food but they won't work any more. And this applies not only to the food but to the bacteria in it -- it tends to kill them. Again, this may be a bit heavy, but it works well enough that the large-scale processed food industry has some plants running this technique.

Finally, on long duration space missions a sun shade and a day or two in shadow ought to bring whatever you put there down to cryogenic temperatures. This kills most bacteria -- some will survive, but none will grow at that kind of temperature and most will be killed.


There's a lot of good answers above on the cooking itself. I wonder if the real problem will be cleanup.

Sure, you're going to use sealed containers and all that, but most cooking ingredients are messy, and just tranferring things between containers, to say nothing of eating, is going to be produce subtances ending up in the wrong place.

I recall from Mary Roach's Packing for Mars that this is in fact a big problem in spaceships... they'd get awfully funky after a week or two.


I'm approaching this exercise as food=nutrients rather than food=Michelin fare.

For long-duration missions, that's a mistake. We take a lot of pleasure from the act of eating; and group meals are a valuable social bonding ritual. You'll note that navies that operate nuclear submarines on long underwater missions (typically 90 days submerged) pay quite a lot of attention to keeping the crew well-fed. This is not an accident ...

There's also the issue that in zero gee, fluid redistribution in the human body tends to result in a loss of appetite, and muscle wastage is a constant challenge. If the food is flavourless or uninteresting there's another reason for astronauts to eat less, in which case their physical condition goes to hell, and to get depressed, in which case the whole space mission is jeopardized.

(And let's not even consider the requirements of life aboard a full scale space colony here.)


Yes, they can lose and/or inactivate plasmids.

Plasmids are basically extra bits of DNA that code for something... usually a smallish number of proteins (occasionally a surprisingly large number though). But making proteins takes energy and materials, and at the level of the individual cell making an extra protein or two takes an appreciable amount of extra resources.

So there's a juggling act between the rewards and the costs all the time, and quite a few mechanisms to turn them off.


Sounds a bit similar to feeding the elderly- the sense of taste wanes a bit so you have to make the food colorful to focus attention on it again.

Maybe to keep overhead down, you'd try to get basic foodstock that can be prepared creatively- much like ground grain paste can be turned into anything from pasta to brioche to tortillas to snack crackers. Soybeans, flour and Quorn, with flavorings as available for variety?


Quorn is probably right out, barring a production breakthrough -- it's cultured on egg white, which implies chickens, which may or may not be something you can count on in zero gee.


diffusion is not driven by gravity. At very small scales the gravity is essentially irrelevant; the dough is going to work just fine (nonetheless there will be people doing doctorates on that topic).

Diffusion is not driven by gravity, but if you have no gravity you don't have a pressure gradient, and pressure gradients in liquid really help if you're trying to separate out particulates or gas bubbles. (You can use a centrifuge to produce a pressure gradient, of course ...)

One of the issues with dough is that it's essentially a complex emulsion -- you have microscopic gas bubbles distributed through a colloidal matrix held together by elastic polymers (gluten). And you have yeast cells growing in the thin film of water adsorbed on the surface of the grains of flour, metabolizing starches and protein from the bread plus oxygen from the ambient air and producing carbon dioxide and ethanol.

Stuff that can go wrong with bread in free fall might well include: yeast poisoning due to failure to remove ethanol from the mix, major texture weirdness due to carbon dioxide bubbles not rising and merging, and problems baking the risen dough evenly (conduction and radiation work normally in zero gee, convection doesn't).


Chemistry in zero-gee has been studied by Prof Colin Ramshaw at the behest of NASA. Ramshaw's work has led to a branch of chemistry called process intensification with his higee reactor being an important part of this science.

There are sufficient key words in the above for yourself and others to google lots of background. The application to cooking should be intuitive.


Since we're back on topic, I'll take the liberty of convening the Orbital Beer Co. directors to discuss this link.

Re: cooking, it strikes me that you'd have to add the tomato to the pizza *after* the mozzarella has melted, so it sticks to the cheese and therefore maintains its structural integrity. But how do you get the mozzarella to stick to the pizza? Easy, brush the pizza with beaten egg out of the magnetic stirrer. Then apply the cheese, taking care not to lose gratings. Into the solar oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese. Then on with the tomatoes, soya beansprouts, anchovied tilapia flakes. Back into the oven.

Cutting things up is a special case of working with hand tools generally - which people do in space.

I imagine that the canonical space dinner would be a sort of waterzooi/bouillabaisse/gumbo (delete, and adjust spices, accordingly). The fact there are so many cognate recipes down here suggest that it's both a useful pattern and that people like it.


Come to think of it, we'll need space chickens if only because eggs are so important as a binding agent to hold things together.

On the other hand, here's a thread about cooking in the Nimrod MR2's galley while the aircraft manoeuvred at 500ft over the winter North Atlantic, which is pretty close to the design requirement. Not zero G, but that's achievable for brief periods if the skipper is having a bad day, and arguably "sudden, unpredictable fluctuations between significant positive and negative G values" is even harder to cook in, as you get the flying liquids without the handy features of being able to park utensils in mid-air and never dropping anything.

The answers aren't particularly appetising (hey, the word "honkers" refers to honking as in vomiting), but then the ingredients are a bit grim (this is high-postwar British military rations we're talking about) and there's a lot of "socially-bonding machismo test/hangover cure" going on. It's also very interesting that even a relatively small group of people (RAF maritime patrol aviators) with relatively short mission times (maximum 20 or so hours with AAR) and very restricted cooking facilities (read the thread) generated an identifiable food culture.


I seem to recall egg-white makes a good binding agent, and it's almost all albumen. I've no idea how easily it could be done and what it would taste like, but engineering some bacterial strain to grow albumen in culture shouldn't be too hard. That might save on the chicken and the egg problem.

Egg yolks are a much trickier problem mind. And essential for some bits of cooking.


You can leave out eggs. In Gluten-free baking, the gluten is most often replaced with Xantham and/or Guar gum--both plant based, Flax and Chia seed can also be used. They form bubbles that hold in the CO2 from the leavening agents. In Vegan baking; egg, milk, and butter is replaced with vegetable oils, though I don't think that serves the same purpose as the gums--I've only read about vegan baking that's also GF, and haven't tried either yet. Of course, that's just baking, you're not going to be making omelets with any of that.

Then there is Tempeh which is made from grains, usually Soy, with a fungus binder. Sounds unappetizing, but can be quite tasty.


NASA made a scissors, fork, spoon eating tool. Used tubes instead. A TV cooking show said alcohol with or in place of water makes a better dough. Don't remember why. Cooking boils it out.


How well does conduction work in a substance filled with air bubbles?


Yes it does (Vodka is the recommended cleanest alcohol/water mix). Unfortunately you are still stuck with issues of flour floating about in microgravity.


Excuse the ignorant question, but how do you do distillation without gravity?


There are a lot of cutting-edge and conceptual chefs out there now cooking with various vacuum-sealed, chemical and cold-griddle techniques. I am sure a wide variety of tasty but very non-traditional meals could be prepared in zero gravity.

However, I think we are much closer to permanent 'space hotels' near Earth than we are to a multi-year manned mission of any size. The true possibilities of space cooking will be explored by the chefs on space tourist ventures long before it matters for any kind of long-duration probe mission.


For an alternative coagulant, use the juice of a fresh lemon or fresh orange (canned juices kill something needed by being pasteurized or reconstituted from concentrate). The yield is lower, but the tofu keeps the flavor from the citrus fruit used.

As for the "husk residue" (called "okara" in Japanese), I made tofu from soybeans for a project for a Japanese course, and when I was asked to make it for the end-of-semester party for the Japanese club, the women went crazy about the okara. One can purchase tofu in almost every store in the US (although I have managed to get relocated to towns that don't have it, so I had to learn to make it myself), but okara is about impossible to get outside Japan as it goes rancid about >.< that fast. They had a blast making things with it that they couldn't make since coming to the US.


Semi-random musings...

I wouldn't worry as much about the explosive potential of flour; you just mill it in inert nitrogen (or, CO2, if you can safely recover the cooking usage). Yes, if you spray it all around the kitchen, it can kaboom, but so can a number of other things you are already bringing along.

I'd reorient the discussion a bit - what foodstuffs one brings along (will store well) would include flour / grain / rice, for short to mid duration missions. Once sterilized and stored without oxygen they last very long times, particularly of you store them cool.

The food one will grow will depend on how much one brought along from the beginning, and of what, and what types of things don't store well. Contrary to a lot of the above, vegetables and fruits are in fact a huge win here - they don't store for months well (as a rule) and need little prep work, and are big morale / taste boosters.

They will be the first and a primary made-in-space staple.

If you're up there for long periods of time in closed cycle environments, years to decades, then stored good stuff doesn't last long enough, though MREs can last decades in cold storage without spoilage. With enough mass, one should bring survival food anyways (in case the closed cycle food stuffs fail for some reason), but people will likely be Real Grumpy eating it for extended periods.

Vinegar is easy - a little flavoring concentrate, some concentrated acetic acid, and water...

I actually think that boiling or deep fat frying may be possible; a little spin-G in a spinning pot will keep against the outer wall, you put food in/out through an axial hole, using a scooper of some sort.

If I weren't overly busy I'd see about contacting the zero-G aircraft folks about setting up some experiments (in a sealed subcompartment...).


Off topic. I remember a blog post about interstellar economics but can not find it. Below is a link to a paper by Paul Krugman where he takes a look at the economics of interstellar trade as an exercise.

[URL corrected by mod]


Convection seems an unlikely problem to me. The dough doesn't really flow during baking. It isn't what we might call liquid at the best of times, being quite viscous, though getting from flour, yeast, and water to ready-to-bake dough would be a serious challenge in zero-g.

It might be possible to design an experiment that would be practical on the ISS but it would depend on holding a pre-mixed dough in a stable state between putting it in the bread-tin (presumably on the ground) and then letting it rise and putting it in the oven.

Take up a small Dyson, perhaps, to take care of the crumbs. (That sort of air-cleaning system might be a good idea. I expect that motors and switches would have to be made to the standards used for coal mines—no sparks.)


Unless you're talking about heat transfer within the oven, between heat source and food being cooked, in which case a fan oven should work. Details will vary a little, but your loaf is sitting in a metal tin, and if you can get the heat into that convection doesn't matter, The top crust will differ a little.

How do they cook bagels?


Generally conduction in materials with air pockets is worse than the same material without air pockets. Although if you've got something really non-conductive it could flip.

However, "worse" is a not very quantitative statement. Heat conduction through doughs and cake mixes is certainly good enough to cook the insides of the loaf/cake as well as the outside.

On the flip side, things like oven gloves tend not to have air pockets and are pretty good at not conducting heat.


Someone should take an off-the-shelf bread making machine up to the ISS and give that a try. Adding the ingredients would be tricky.. pre-weighed packets of ingredients added via closed pipe/squeeze-syphon containers would help with the particulate fly-off (as stated in many ways above: you can't pour in zero-G)
as for the mixing etc.. Iirc the machines take care of that..mix to dough, prove and heat to baked in one box..

there's probably many holes in the above idea.. but it might be entertaining to see how the zero-g affects a known process.. the basic instructions are the same for down here and up there.. just the addition of ingredients..

128: can do it by freezing- you'll get water ice mixed with an alcohol-water mixture of increased potency. They used to do this one in New England (at least) with apple cider to make a form of applejack or apple "brandy".
Now, the downside is that fermentation doesn't just make ethanol- there are a few other alcohols in there that aren't nearly as good for you, which can be largely removed (depending on your tastes) during traditional distillation, and which all stay in freeze distillation (which is why it's currently illegal in the US, afik)


I'd be surprised if there are too many other alcohols formed - the reaction is pretty much to free up pyruvate and recycle NADH back to NAD so glycolosis can continue. You might get some ethanal as well as ethanol I guess, but there's a huge excess of NADH to drive the equilibrium over to the ethanol side.

In addition, it countries where ice-wines, ice-ciders and the like are common, you don't hear a lot about methanol and propanol poisoning. It suggests to me that the other alcohols are there in only low amounts.

It might be the party line, but I rather suspect it's more to do with control. Distilled spirits are usually taxed, even in the US. But it's pretty hard to tax freeze-distillation if you live somewhere cold enough to do it by just sticking the bottles outside for a week or two. Just make it all illegal, and there's less to bother the courts about in terms of evidence.


All those "raw food" advocates will finally have a practical environment to push their dietary eccentricities.

I foresee Ron Popeil making a fortune. Those fully-enclosed chopping devices would be really useful lest the bits float away as you cut. The SlapChop is most famous, but there's a new slicer I've seen on late-night TV that's lever-driven. You could probably hold that in two hands and make it work without difficulty (bracing against yourself, as it were).

Scissors are a great kitchen tool and work the same in zero-gee as on Earth.

Or you go back to an older form of food: lots of dried meats, flatbread, and cheese. I've made many a meal of those ingredients, no cooking needed. The meat-slicer could be fully automated to hold the meat against the blade and slide back and forth without human muscle. Cheese would have to be made in much smaller wheels, so they could be cut by someone holding them in two hands.

Sticky foods would be more useful, as they would have less tendency to break up and float away. I'm starting to think I could have all the La Tur with blueberry preserves that my heart desires.

The only problem would be the bread, but I'm sure a little experimentation would figure out a decent recipe. It's zero-gee, not zero-atmosphere. The dough would stick to the pan, and the drying effect of the fans to simulate convection would not necessarily be detrimental to a crusty baguette.


Ovens? Convection? Sous-vide? Bah!

Just have a traditional fry-up on the casing of the Bergenholm.


I just hope some enterprising sort uses this post and comment thread as inspiration for an animation or two.

Y'all have Leonard of Quirm's hooked zero gee frying pan beat by miles, or even parsecs.


Actually, you still get convection in zero-G, just a different sort. This was a big surprise when people first saw it, and was a disappointment for the growing perfect crystals crowd. One effect is called Marangoni convection which is driven by the interplay of surface tension and temperature gradients, while conventional convection has to do with buoyancy effects and temperature gradients.


"Mod them to not require food" --

I agree that it's silly to plan on sending homo sapiens into permanent free fall... but that only shifts the problem.

Food, like sex, isn't primarily about fulfilling the obvious biological goal -- cooking (and sex) is mostly about socializing. So if you mod out eating, you haven't solved the real problem -- which is that we have deep neurology tied to socializing around these putatively biological processes.

If you cut out sex as an inefficient means of transferring sperm to egg, you're unlikely to create a functional society. If you cut out cooking as an inefficient means of introducing calories and nutrients, you've got the same problem.


Alcohol. You know it's going to get made in space somehow. It won't be easy in microgravity, though.

Assuming you can grow something that has either available sugars (fruits, some veggies) or starch that can be converted (barley is convenient, as it already has the enzymes available to convert starch to sugar, though corn, rice, wheat, and probably every other grain crop has been used), getting potable alcohol should be possible.

To malt, or sprout, grains, just get them wet and hold at the appropriate temperature -- easy in gravity, toss some water in with it and monitor for a couple of days until you have enough grain malted to provide the enzymes to break down the starches. If a plastic bag won't do the trick in microgravity, I can't think of why not. Use a force air system to dry it out -- or just put the malt out in a vacuum and freeze-dry it. Sparging, or extracting the sugar from the malted grain, also shouldn't be that hard -- pump heated water (there are specific temps involved to activate the enzymes and get full starch conversion) through the malt and filter to get the sugary liquor for your beer.

Heating is the next step, it helps remove any stray microorganisms, coagulates proteins for a clearer beer, and allows adjucts such as hops to add their chemicals to the beer. In microgravity, a pressurized system could get you to the desired temperatures, or a pump system with a heating element -- something that ensures that all the liquid is heated evenly.

Cool rapidly to get more coagulation (i.e. a clearer beer) and add yeast. You might use a semi-permeable membrane and pump system to extract the CO2 as it's generated,but a centrifuge for the beer to ferment in seems simpler, and also helps the yeast settle to avoid yeast-bite and cloudy beer.

Fermentation would, I expect, go to completion, as fizzy beer probably wouldn't be a good idea in microgravity. If you're using a centrifuge, the yeast will settle out and the CO2 rise off as usual; if such a device isn't available, the semipermeable membrane setup to remove CO2 would need to run a bit longer until the dissolved gas content is low enough. Filters can take care of any residual cloudiness, if it's found objectionable.

For stronger stuff, break out a different semipermeable membrane and you can use the CO2 scrubber setup to extract out the alcohol if a traditional still isn't practical.


I'd give up drinking. Grow some mild dope and forget about it. The Army showed me drinkers are bigger asses and can't think as well when needed. But they know they are fine.
Years ago I was looking into making and selling apple jack. Freezing worked fine, I was wondering if a vacuum still would use less energy in large "cooks". Then a real bad winter killed the trees.


That's some bad winter indeed! Where was this?


On a slightly different subject... how prepared are we for the need for serious medical procedures in space? What kind of difficulties does zero-g throw up for surgery for instance?

Has there ever been a procedure performed in space? I know there were some experiments done on a 'vomit comet' in the 1990s.


How far is this into the future? Are traditional foodways and preferences displaced by Big Food, Inc? IE, have chicken mcnuggets and ho hos replaced traditional dishes?

If the latter, oh god. Dinosaur killer come, come, come.

If not, we'll have to approximate gravity-based dishes. Otherwise, a trip to Mars on the self-sufficient farmship will be like years of eating punishment loaf. Especially since fluid retention in the upper body gives everyone stuffy noses and reduced sense of taste...

We like things that have texture, that have maillard reactions, that have glutamates and are savory, that are sweet and complex, that grandma served.

I can't see a problem with bread. A standard mixer with planetary gearing should knead dough in a closed vessel. Ethanol generated by the yeast should diffuse slowly - it's predominantly expelled in baking, anyway. The problem would be removing it from the air, afterwards - if you're baking a lot of bread, you've evolving EtOH that isn't in a working fluid that's ultimately processed by alcohol dehydrogenase in some liver, somewhere.

What about pressure cooking and pressure-frying? I can envision a retort with good primary pressure seal, a heating element with impeller, and an ullage membrane. With valves for the liquid cooking medium (water or frying fat mixed with water). Food placed in chamber, which is dogged down. Cooking medium is pumped into primary pressure chamber, with air aspirated out, heating and cooking, dumping evolved steam into an outlet cooling chamber, then pumping cooking medium fluid out into storage tank or waste processing, with the retort being cooled by a regenerative cooling loop.

Thus, you get fried bhajjis.

Cook flatbreads between two non-stick surfaces (like a heated tortilla press). Why wouldn't skewered veg work in a convection oven?

A convection/microwave oven should work fine for dishes that require dessicating Maillard heat.

Lots of chile. Lots of fresh herbs. Garlic. Soy sauce can be brewed when you make beer (think Maggi).

Sous vide is very fiddly. Slowcooked in bulk recipes might be more workable in a spaceship workflow. So, build a heating retort which is a cylinder with a hydraulic inner ram and impeller and outlet valves measured to mate with the openings on collapsable silicone rubber service vessels. Fill with ingredients, cook, and then serve directly from the cooking container. You're only limited by the largest possible chunk size that can fit through the outlet valve. You can get chunky pea soup. Goulasch. How would you clean it? have a water injector, fill the retort - add a little biodegradeable surfactant, heat it up, with high pressure, run the impeller at higher speed, to emulsify and stabilize the suspended food waste, and dump into the waste processing system. Rinse.

Cakes and sweet things. Um. You don't need gravity to use a pastry bag - I mean, extrusion tech. Make up a mix in a sealed vessel, ported into the pressure extruder, aerate, heat, shoot from guns. Charlie - you've heard of the ABC company? The Aerated Bread Company - aerated batters cooked in a radiant heat microwave oven should work fine. You can even make a genoise. The pressure heating aerator becomes your friend.


I realise this is tangential to the main thrust of your post, but I've also been using a soy milk maker for the past five or six years and whilst happy with it have never really had any luck cooking with the leftover soybean pulp ("okara"), despite having tried half a dozen different recipes. I feel bad just chucking it out; have you had any particular success finding a use for the stuff?


I've never been impressed with the stuff. The ladies at the club meeting made a variety of things including some omelet-like dish, which didn't impress me. They loved it, and if I still lived in that city, I'd make plenty for them. Every time I made tofu, and tried to save the okara, it was rancid the next day (or so it seemed to me - it might have just normally smelled that way when refrigerated).

I just chuck it out. I also chuck out the cheesecloth used for straining as it wasn't worth cleaning.

Experiments with sous vide stuff will have to wait until my next house, the current apartment is so small I had to choose between microwave or bread machine. But Amazon loves y'all for refilling my wish list.


Remember, "sous-vide" is very low temperature cooking, not nearly enough to kill off bacteria. Maybe keep them from growing, but not kill them. And it won't kill spores like Clostridium, the cause of botulin poisoning.

You could irradiate the heck out of all the food, but if that's done on a long intrastellar voyage I think you'll eventually select for radiation resistance. That's how Deinococcus radiodurans was discovered, in irradiated food.


Hopefully they made sure that the Clostridium wasn't on the ship in the first place...or at least wasn't given the happy conditions it needs to grow. Why we worry about it in canned food but not fresh- too much O2.


About in the middle of the US of A. It's hard to say for sure but there was a very bad blast of arctic air that hit orchards here and stayed longer than usual. Nobody had fans or sumge pots, never needed them before. Most orchards never fully recovered, but our trees were already weak from the spay company mixing some brush killer in with the fungicide. We in the middle of the country, did not hear about it till the lawsuits were settled and the company was bankrupt over a different and phony case.
Vinegar is just a cheap, tasty acid. There are lots of acids, no I have no idea how they would work or taste. Uric acid???
I've read that steam is a great way of cooking and baking. I think cooking is a heath thing. Beside germs, Mother nature uses lots of toxins to keep plants them from being eaten. Heat breaks them down so the are safe as well as tasty. In fact if some big corp. tried to sell some natural foods as new they would be illegal.
Methanol cooks off first. So the first of a run is dumped. I was going to work with heat as well as freezing to find the best way to make applejack.


Charles Stross: "Stuff that can go wrong with bread in free fall might well include: yeast poisoning due to failure to remove ethanol from the mix"
I don't see why gravity is so relevant to removal of ethanol (assuming you have a fan blowing at the dough). The ethanol does not rise up in the solution under gravity, and the bubbling out is actually rather insignificant.

Re: bubbles rising, based on my experience cooking I would say it would be easier in zero G where the bubbles do not rise - you won't have to stir it so much to prevent bubbles from rising. In any case, centrifuging is ridiculously lightweight and cheap compared to the food growing operation, even if you spin your entire kitchen. The extra structural strength is minuscule in comparison with what's needed to withstand even partial atmospheric pressure.

Regarding why ISS doesn't use 'artificial gravity', for a research space station staffed by astronauts, zero gravity has a lot of advantages, and having artificial gravity sort of defeats the point.


Very good point.
Other issue with irradiated food is that many of the common bacteria require very high doses (salmonella for example), and the high doses are somewhat questionable from the safety perspective - you get a giant number of products of radiolysis - random molecules, vast majority of which have not been approved for human consumption, and some of which, by the dumb luck, might act as cumulative poisons.

The food irradiation at large doses slips through an unfortunate loophole in the regulation; even though it adds products of radiolysis, it is classified as 'process' applied to food, and doesn't need to pass the stringent testing required for the food additives that were made by chemically processing 'non food'.


You're one step from the raw food people now- just think about what applying heat to food does to all the compounds in it- breaks bonds, makes new ones...and if you burn the stuff a bit, we know that char gunk is carcinogenic.

Look at it this way- how much of what you eat now was approved for human consumption on a molecule by molecule basis? Why would you expect that level of analysis for what you eat?


Could you print some foods and use that as a preparation method? If need perhaps mounted in a centrifuge? I've read a few articles about chefs wanting to use printers to make new types of prepared food, so if people became used to it/liked it on earth it might be palatable to future astronauts?


Whether gas pockets reduce thermal conductivity or increase it, depends on the size of the gas bubble (as well as on the physical properties of the gas and of the material between the bubbles). In bigger bubbles you get more natural convection, which increases faster with size than direct conduction. Besides gravity to drive natural convection, there is also the Marangoni effect. If there are gradients in temperature or composition, even in zero-g, it's basically impossible to keep a fluid from moving around in it's container.
There were plans to do diffusion measurements in molten metal droplets on the international space station, using the microgravity to keep convection from messing up the diffusion profiles. It turned out that to make those measurements feasible, even in microgravity, they still had to get the temperature gradients down, and if they could get the temperature gradients down, then the measurement could be done almost as well on earth (partly because the molten metals in question have rather high viscosities at the temperatures they were looking at).


I know the point of the exercise is to think about new, interesting and useful ways to cook food in zero gravity but, having read the comments so far, I think cooking food in zero gravity looks very hard and requires many adaptions to cooking techniques and to tastes.

I think it would be cheaper and easier and more robust to build a large rotating torus and avoid having to re-invent the wheel.

I think the difficulties might makes canned rations the preferred option over zero gravity cooking for voyages of longer duration than a few years.


There's a pretty good chance that the astronauts can used to an unusual diet.

Naval vessels, both surface and submarine, try to provide high quality food for as long as possible. For a surface vessel in peacetime that can be moderately easy, because you can always go and dock somewhere, but even so accident happen (like fridges blowing up), and some foods just don't store well for really long periods. So although it's well cooked, for some parts of some voyages, the rations are 'unusual.'

OK, they're in the services and to some extent will put up and shut up, at least they're being fed! But it's pretty easy to imagine astronauts, when they have chefs aboard too, will develop diets that are somewhat unusual by earth standards.


Ultraphyte thinks you're not going to eliminate Clostridium botulinum, since it's in air, water, and soil. And it's not the only microbe; many people carry Clostridium difficile in their intestines. Are you going to eliminate all microbes altogether? Then people would lack their intestinal community, which is considered an essential part of the body.

Ultraphyte likes printing out some foods, although it will be a while before we can make desirable textures.

Vinegar is healthy because acetic acid is a fundamental product of all living organisms, yet too high a concentration stops microbial growth.


Some suggested reading on the Science of Cooking, somewhat more affordable than the above mentioned "Modernist Cuisine" .

Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking"

Several of Herve This' books have been translated.

and for the less technical,
Robert L. Wolke's "What Einstein Told His Cook" 1&2

Some other things I'm wondering about now:
What would the composition of the shipboard atmosphere be? Clarke used to suggest 3psi of pure O2, but Apollo 1 showed that to be a Bad Idea. And how is plant growth affected? Do plants take in atmospheric Nitrogen, or only through the roots? Are we talking hydroponics, or having top soil? Perhaps starting off with hydroponics, and adding top soil as all wastes that can be are composted?

WRT food printers, you should be thinking more of 3D printers, rather than inkjets.

danieldwilliam @150
I think it would be cheaper and easier and more robust to build a large rotating torus and avoid having to re-invent the wheel.

Ha! Intentional, or not, that's amusing.


To clarify: plants don't fix atmospheric nitrogen. That job is done by various bacteria and cyanobacteria. In plants that fix nitrogen, the plants provide living space and carbohydrates in exchange for a share of the nitrogen. Typically, this living space is in things like root nodules, but not always (cf Azolla).

Soil gets...interesting. This is where you need to read about Biosphere 2, because some of their worst problems on their first run came from ignoring the soil scientists (who advised using a mineral soil) and installed a high-organic soil.

There's not a simple answer. You have the choice of growing in soil, hydroponics, or aeroponics (growing the plants bare root, and spray the roots with nutrient solution). Each setup has pluses and minuses. Right now, we know most about using hydroponics in space, but I'm not sure that's the best solution when you start recycling wastes into plant food.


Question: where do your vinegar and baking soda come from?

Well, at least for plain disodium carbonate, that shouldn't be that much of a problem; most air recycling systems I'm aware of use the good old alkali metal (hydr|per|)oxide to alkali metal carbonate scheme to remove carbon dioxide from air, and even if the final air recycling uses a different system (do you think green houses or cultivation of photosynthetic microbes feasable?), it might be beneficial to have some other ways for handling carbon dioxide, both as a buffer when things go wrong and for enriching carbon dioxide in the plant cultivation areas:

AFAIK current spaceflight uses lithium peroxide,

but the hydroxide has some benefits when you want a cycle, heat carbonate to release carbon dioxide, mix with water to get the hydroxide, react with air to get the carbonate, rinse, repeat. And OK, I wouldn't want to use lithium carbonate for baking, well, except under very special circumstances (AFAIK I'm somewhat at the end of the usual age for first manic episode bipolar), but since weight is not so much an issue when you're out of the gravity well, sodium should be fine, too, and both sodium hydroxide and carbonates have other uses. And we could replenish it from urine etc. by electrolysis.

Another possibility would be ammonium carbonate, which you could get from urea, maybe with some nice inorganic catalyst replacement for urease, but then, blowing your ammonia quite literally through the furnace when you could use it as fertiliser doesn't really appeal that much.

As for vinegar, maybe using yeast isn't that central for the job, there are bacteria that do the same,

and for biotech in space in general I'd prefer something like a general purpose vanilla bacteria without vily backdoors etc., crufts removed, spaghetti code that is normal genomic DNA somewhat sanitized, source code proofread etc.,

where you insert the needed plasmid on an 'as needed' basis.

Let's just say you get nice ideas when you see your biopolymer guys reading abouth bacillus antracis, but they were working on polyglutamic acid, part of a Japanese food,

Oh, and a virulence factor in Anthrax, because it protects the bacteria from the immune system.

So I would like to be sure my imitate apple cider vinegar isn't two mutations away from a new cholera.

Leaving the general problem of biotech in space aside, we do not necessarily need acetic acid in baking, as we could use diluted mineral acids, where I guess we would need some synthetic capabilities, and if all fails, well, there is always this...

Or to quote one man's slow descent into Australia's SM scene, ehh, Farscape:

Zhaan: I predigested it to increase its potency.
John Crichton: It's puke?

Added benefit is creation of some hydrolysates by peptidases etc. that act as, err, aroma.

But than, acetic acid is useful as a pH buffer in biochemistry, so we want some synthetic capabilities for this one. And if it's multiple use, the better.

I guess what comes clear with this little excursions is that nutrition in zero-gee is going to be intertwined into the rest of the design of the mission; we should design the life support in a way that gives us useful byproducts, e.g. sodium hydroxide, disodium carbonate or some nitrogen compounds, the specifics also depend somewhat on the energy source, in earth orbit or even closer to the sun, photovoltaic and greenhouses are likely most effective, with solar furnaces as an alternative heat source, if you leave the inner solar system to go to the rim were the profit is, you might want nuclear fission or similar.

To go for another excursion, I'll indulge in the technoporn wankfest that is the molten salt thorium reactor, for various reasons(tried to build isotope seperation in space? So much for mining uranium...), which has the known bug/feature of the U-232 impurity, a strong gamma emitter. Even if gamma sterilization might have some drawbacks, if you have the source, why not use it?

Personally, for sterilization I'd prefer the usual heat application, both for the toxin inactivation and the generation of several aromas; for cooking, I agree pressure cooking is likely to be the most practical approach (no bubbles etc.),

maybe with induction cooking as the heat producer:

This has the added benefit that we can easily use electricity from photovoltaic or nuclear fission, though I guess some people will insist on cooking with a solar furnace/directly at the reactor, maybe extreme high temperatures or radiolysis create special aromas.

As for mixing, I never understood why magnetic stirrers didn't make it outside of the laboratory.

For the rest of the kitchen work, AFAIR in another post you said it was vitally important to keep the crew busy, and kitchen work is just another application of experimentation and some laboratory techniques. E.g.:

- freeze drying your food, than homogenizing it with a mixer.
- the french pressure cell press, for some juices:


As for problems with fermentation in free fall, if we get into problems with zero-g intolerant microbes, maybe using small centrifuges might help.

Since the things I mentioned tend to produce something on the mash side of things, taste is going to be important, where AFAIK some aromas are dependent on conditions we don't want to create in space, think frying, so we have to think about alternative, e.g. adding hydrolysates of polyglutamic acid etc. As for the more complex aromas, like e.g. chinine, there we go into medicinal chemistry, IN SPACE...

As already mentioned, I think we should design the life support in a way that

a) keeps a focus on recycling and

b) includes some intermediaries that can be siphoned into other areas(of course, that goes somewhat against recycling, but we would include ways to reinject our waste back into the system, as with the isolation of sodium chloride from urine to electrolyse it to sodium hydroxide)

with the intermediaries both for technological, scientific and nutritional uses. Here, I'd like to add artistic and medicinal uses (somebody already mentioned sodium hydrogencarbonate has medicinal uses, too). And I'd like to stress that our, err, agricultural efforts have to align with this, too.

I don't know if and how we're going to grow food, but if yes, the same insistance on multiple uses goes here, too. As already mentioned, acetic acid might be nice in the kitchen, but it's useful in the laboratory, too. And in technological applications, AFAIK there are some protocols for passivating aluminium that include acetic acid. As for artistic uses, well, aluminum acetate is a mordant with dyes. And as for medical uses, injection solutions need buffers, too.

I could go on. Pure polysaccharides are important for nutrition, but also for ethanol that goes to solvents, fatty acids can be used as an ersatz for petrol sometimes etc.

Problem is, synthesizing all those things de novo is going to be impossible or at least quite difficult. Even though biochemistry is quite apt at it. AFAIK one of the breakthrough for steroid therapy was finding a plant that contained the right enantiopure precursor.

And I think we want some limited facilities for drugs synthesis, since we can't stock everything; for a list of the specific medizines we want, it might help to look at this for a start:

Though I guess some pruning is necessary; first of, trypanomasiasis isn't that much an issue some ligh minutes away from the next tsetse fly. And as alread said, multiple uses, to get into the mood, a pharmacologist was asked once which antidepressant he'd choose if he was allowed to take one, and one only, to an isolated island. He chose the one with the most side effects, for exactly this reason:

Though of course that only makes sense to a degree, e.g. an antidiarrheal agent that increased colon motility would be of limited use.

Which leads to another idea, e.g. with the antipsychotics, I'd ditch haloperidol and concentrate on the phenothiazines, for two reason:

First of, for the same reason they used a phenothiazine and not haloperidol in CATIE, since maybe haloperidol is worse than other antipsychotics with regards to motor side effects.

Second of, because the same reason that gives the phenothiazines in general a certain tendency towards 'dirty drugs', e.g. the general structure bind to plenty of receptors, means that small changes of said structure can tweak receptor affinities, and thus we only need some general synthesis facilities and a few ideas howto tweak synthesis a little to get a potent nonsedating antipsychotic or a sedating antihistamine, both of which might work as antiemetics. Let's call it the modularity approach.

Something similar goes for sulfonamides(antibiotic, diuretic, antihypertensive, there are some extic members, e.g. anticonvulsives), opium alkaloids and related(morphine for pain and diarrhea, maybe delta agonists for hibernation, apomorphine for Parkinson's) etc.

Which is not that much without precedent, even though the general public sees current chemical industry as 'polluting and wasteful', there are quite some examples of using processes with multiple use products, siphoning waste products that are useful elsewhere etc.. Just look at using coal tar for aromatics, the Solvay process etc.; this comes with a caveat, though, when we look at specific examples, we see it took centuries to get there, and even though the 'polluting and wasteful' sticker is not so adequate, the processes are still not perfect. So I guess before we get to a level anywhere near the intertwined processes I imagined above, we're going to see some trial and error in space flight first, where most progress is going to be slow and incidental.

To use an contemporary example, look at Inuit technologies. And keep in mind that they reached the Arctic only in the 1000, AD...


what about a two sided grill -as in two plates made of a fine mesh which traps the food to be grilled between it, then one of two grills placed to either side - spun in a centrifuge with a drainage grill at the bottom to catch falling hot fats or other waste from the cooking? I think it would be a bugger to load up in zero g, so maybe you spear the food onto the grills? But then would you have to generally exclude hot fatty foods, because presumably you'd have to eat the food in zero g, and the hot fat could escape the food whilst you're eating it? (I'm thinking of something like a steak)

Also, this is a naive question: how hazardous/uncontrollable would it be to flush out a persons gut flora/general bodily microbial ecology, then give them a tailored selection of specific gut/body flora, excluding stuff you don't want. I'm only asking, because would it be possible to just airlock everything going into the zero g environment in the first place to get a control on introducing nasty microbes in the first place?


Standard pressure cooking still uses conduction to get heat from the pot into the liquids, so it's not obviously successful for 0g. (Microwave pressure cookers should be fine.)

Also, how much space travel will really be at 0g? Parking in orbit and doing stuff around asteroids will, but long-distance travel is probably under thrust, not coasting? The reason it matters is that you're starting to get into discussions of farming in 0g, not just cooking. There's a huge amount of farming we don't even know how to do in closed ecosystems _with_ gravity (e.g. terrariums like Biosphere 1 and 2 didn't work.) At some point we'll need to do some kind of agriculture in 0g just for sewage and CO2 recycling, but that may end up being algae. Most large long-term locations are likely to have either nearby planets or gravity.

A couple of decades ago, there was a paper in AAAS's Science magazine called "The life of an onion, not knowing down from up", where they simulated growing an onion in 0g by continually turning it over. The onion was not happy - apparently gravity is part of what tells it where to put stems vs. roots.


Standard pressure cooking still uses conduction to get heat from the pot into the liquids, so it's not obviously successful for 0g. (Microwave pressure cookers should be fine.)

Err, I guess there won't be that much of a problem with conduction from the pot into the liquids, though I agree the lack of convection is going to be a bugger and means we're going to get a somewhat steep gradient. Stirring the content of the pot might help, though. And as mentioned, I think most of the results are going to be somewhat on the, err, mashy side.

Bigger chunks pose quite a problem, even if you like your steaks crusty and bloody inside. I concur that microwave cooking is likely the only way if you have an aversion to baby food...


Geotropism (the sense of growing roots down and stems up) pretty much relies on gravity yes. I'd be cautious about the experiment as described though... it's not clear that's simulating 0g so much as chopping and changing "up" regularly which could have rather different effects.

And geotrophism isn't the only thing plants use to grow, phototropism is a fairly powerful force and could be done in 0g easily enough.


Thanks. I had actually thought of mentioning soil microbes in relation to composting, but thought I'd done enough questioning, and realized I had lost track of the time.

Most of what I've read about Biosphere 2 tended to focus on the air and water, not much about the soil that I recall.

I was also wondering what system takes up the least space. I once saw a hydroponics set up at EPCOT 25ish years ago, was not a small operation (they also had plants in simulated Moon soils). I assume some progress has been made in shrinking it down, but I'd imagine there's a limit to how small you can go. Dwarf Tomato plants? Aeroponics slipped my mind,  seems that would be savings in mass more than space. And where are the nutrients going to come from? That thought led me to ask about composting.


Well, the barbecued food does contain known carcinogens and does increase incidence of cancer, and I do not eat that (not part of my culture anyway). It is as reasonable to limit the dosage in food irradiation as it is to limit the presence of half-burnt material in your food. This is not fringe - all the developed countries have regulations with rather low dose limits (US has 3kGy for poultry).


So now the cooking's done and the fat has been chewed over dinner, there remains the issue of the washing up. Is it really just as simple as having a zero-G dishwashing machine?


If you have money to throw around on research into food science Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold is the best you can find. He was one of the original members of Microsoft, and after he retired one thing he did was start a food lab where he hired lots of chefs to find the best ways to cook, using any bizarre lab device. I found out about it when he was profiled in Wired.

So that might give you some ideas, it's expensive.

I think sous vide would be hard unless the water would be pumped out after it's done cooking, or a small chamber like an airlock, but waterlock, to place the bags of food in and remove them. A centrifuge could be used if the water and food doesn't completely fill the container.

I am confused though on how well food can grow in no gravity.

I think a big question is what to do with the waste heat? already you will have a problem dealing with waste heat since radiators only work so well in a vacuum. Cooking, even with a microwave, will add to the ambient heat. Perhaps ships will need heat recapture devices that transform it back into electricity, not just for efficiency but to keep everyone from boiling alive.


It looks like bread would be possible in a Sous-vide cooker. Someone did an experiment and it worked.

Since the dough was completely enclosed and floating in a water bath, I think that is a pretty good approximation of a zero-g cooking environment. That implies that bread will rise in zero-g and that bubble diffusion isn't much of a problem.

Given his results, you might want to pop the mostly "baked" loaf into an IR browning oven to create a crust.


The heat issue would be a big plus for sous-vide, I would think, since the temperature would be that much lower. One might as well have a water bath that you never actually bother cooling down - you just open a hatch, and lift out or place in the latest bags.

Dealing with a large volume of relatively cool fluid is a lot less scary, since it wouldn't have any tendency to bubble into steam. Water surface tension should keep it inside its container, especially if you make that container's internal surfaces from a highly hydrophilic material.


If you can't get Gee, clarified butter works fine ;)


I'm happy with McGee myself.


Is this a good time to point out that a sous-vide bath would boil at 5 PSI absolute?


No, I was assuming one parameter being varied to start with, ad that parameter being the gravity.

If you are running this habitat at that low a pressure, then that's a good point, and you might have to invent a sous-vide pressure cooker (!)

I have to point out that if you're varying the atmosphere that far from STP, then there would be all sorts of other effects on cooking. Gas diffusion would be strongly affected, and dough could be positively dangerous, if the yeasts didn't just give up on the whole idea entirely.


Ah; I was assuming that we were building an interplanetary craft, and working on the basis that we'd go the Apollo route of running a low cabin pressure fo allow a lighter hull.


Earlier I asked about how low pressure in relation to plant growth and totally forgot about how it affects cooking--and I live at 6000 ft. Not the same, but I do know about high altitude baking, and lower boiling temps. Again; D'oh!


I'm not saying you don't have a valid point of view. It's just that I think most other commentators were assuming that the only thing that varied was the gravity, and that we didn't have to worry about other parameters varying as well.

The moment that I first heard the topic mentioned, we were being served Poori flatbreads, all puffed up like balloons, so I should have noted the possibility of pressure.


Looking back at my earlier comment, I was asking about the composition of the atmosphere and mentioned low pressure tangentially. I wasn't directly thinking of how it affects cooking.

This thread just shows how many variables there are.


Al right then ..since people are being just a bit sill on this Cookery Thing .. and since I have often claimed to be, if not the worlds worst cook, than at least pretty close to the equivalent of Absolute Zero in temperature .. lets go back in history a bit and look at how my Grandmother used to cook even as recently as the 1960s of the last century ...

Now what would a decaying Space Going ROCK use as an equivalent?

Also, people are being far too cheerful about the prospects of these Space Going Colonies. I'm English and of Scots Ancestry and I just don't believe in being relentlessly Cheery ....We're DOOMED I Tell E DOOMED !!!

You'd need a heat source of course, and some sort of sealed ' Oven ' to hold the Cook-able Stuff and Cook-able Stuff to Cook .. what would happen in a Space Going Habitable Rock that had suffered a slightly less than totally terminal disaster?


Food Safety. Hows that going to work? Gravity is quite helpful in preventing cross-contamination of food. For example, as part of preventing cross contaminating raw meat to non-cooked dishes, Normally you should put raw meat, covered in bottom of refridgerator. In zero G it'll have to be super air tight or an airborne droplet can easily waft between different foods. Preparation is tricky there. I can imagine food borne illness spreading like wildfire in any shared living environment in ZeroG.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on November 12, 2011 8:28 AM.

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