Frying potatoes in space may be possible, thanks to new apparatus

Experiments were carried out in weightlessness using the novel carousel-type apparatus to test the frying strategy.
Mrigakshi Dixit
Eating French fries in space may be possible in future.
Eating French fries in space may be possible in future.


​Gravity governs everything we do on Earth, including how we fry potatoes. Humans have been frying food for centuries, and it is a simple task. However, there is actually more to it, and it involves complex science. 

Thanks to buoyancy, it is possible to fry potatoes. Buoyancy causes bubbles to form on the surface and travel upwards, allowing for the perfect fry. In microgravity, however, this simple task becomes much more difficult. 

Without the gravitational pull, the bubbles do not rise, preventing the frying of crispy potatoes. However, it has been discovered that it may be possible to fry potatoes in a microgravity environment.

Scientists from Greece's University of Thessaloniki created a specialized automated fryer specifically for this purpose. 

The frying experiment 

Experiments were carried out in weightlessness using the novel "carousel-type apparatus" to test the frying strategy. Scientists carried out two experimental tests on a parabolic flight facility of the European Space Agency (ESA). The space agency has been funding research into the mechanisms of fry cooking methods in microgravity.

A high-speed, high-resolution camera was used to record the entire frying process, particularly the bubble dynamics. It captured various bubble parameters, including growth rate, size, distribution, and escape velocity from the potato. It also recorded the speed and direction of bubble movement in oil as well as the temperature of the boiling oil. 

Understanding the bubble dynamics for microgravity is highly important as “without buoyancy pulling upwards, bubbles might stick to the surface of a potato, shielding the potato in a layer of steam that researchers thought might leave it undercooked and undesirable.”

The results of the experiment revealed that vapor bubbles detached from the surface of the oil shortly after the potato was poured into it in low gravity conditions, just like on Earth. 

“Apart from nutrition and comfort, studying the process of frying in space could also lead to advancements in various fields, from traditional boiling to producing hydrogen from solar energy in microgravity,” said John Lioumbas, who was part of this study, in an official release

Up next, the researchers plan to improve the apparatus's capabilities. The researchers' new discovery gives hope to future explorers as they will not have to rely solely on packaged or re-hydrated food items and will be able to enjoy this delicious comfort food even in space. 

The results have been published in the journal Food Research International.

Study abstract:

Dietary nutrition and uptake of earth-like foods are extremely important aspects for the health and performance of astronauts, especially during future planned long-term space missions. Despite the major progress in studying and designing systems for crop cultivation in microgravity conditions in the last years, there hasn’t been equal interest in food preparation processes and cooking. There are several reasons for this but it is chiefly because at present astronauts stay in space for a few months at most, so there is no serious nutritional or psychological need for earth-like food habits. This, however, will change drastically in long-term missions, e.g., to Moon and Mars. French fries are a very popular food commodity across many cultural backgrounds on earth and as such they may be appreciated by long-term space travelers of different origin. The process of frying in hot oil is associated with complex heat and mass transfer along with the growth and detachment of water vapor bubbles. These phenomena are strongly affected by buoyancy and gravitational acceleration making the study of frying at space conditions a challenging task. The present work examines potato frying in hot oil during the short duration low gravity conditions achieved in a Parabolic Flight Campaign organized by the European Space Agency. An innovative device has been constructed, allowing the simultaneous observation of bubbles dynamics above the potato surface and the thermal behavior inside the potato flesh. It is seen that even in the absence of buoyancy i.e., during parabolas, vapor bubbles still detach and depart from the surface of potato permitting hot oil to maintain contact with the potato surface and leading eventually to a fried product. 

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