It’s possible for amateur cooks to produce a gourmet meal on the set up of MasterChef, but it’s not easy to make a pita filled with falafel, tahina, salad and hummus when cooking in space.
MasterChef judge Haim Cohen actually agreed to have himself hung upside down in a Ramat Gan studio surrounded by props that made it look like he were inside a space shuttle while he tried to create the popular Israeli dish. Preparing food while being hung from his legs is about as difficult as functioning in weightlessness, the rather-hefty TV chef learned while serving as an actor for part of the Science and Technology Ministry’s Space Week activities starting on Sunday.According to Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, “Just as we succeeded in bringing scientists, educational projects and Israeli satellites to space, we found the creative way to ‘launch’ into space the most Israeli dish.”Cohen had to take several components into account when working on the project.Microgravity can have harmful effects on the body; the sense of taste is damaged in space and food products are less fresh because of the long journey, but it can be kept in a vacuum so it doesn’t become stale.The Science and Technology Ministry explained that due to microgravity conditions on a space station, every shake of the salt or pepper holders overwhelm the spaceship with grains and does not reach the food. The grains continue to hover, which is also quite dangerous – astronauts can accidentally inhale them causing damage to the airways, or may even enter the eyes. In space, astronauts have vials with salt and pepper solutions to inject into the food.During microgravity conditions, the ministry said, nasal fluid accumulates in the sinuses and the tongue swells, so that the sense of taste is damaged like eating during a cold. For this reason, dishes sent to space in the first place are made to be very sweet, salty, sour or bitterly, the ministry explained. Cohen was challenged to produce a dish that would be tasty in space as well – but in fact, with his legs in the air and a strap pulling him up and down to simulate weightlessness, much of the falafel balls and the rest of the pita’s contents fell “upward.”Over the years, the dishes sent with astronauts to space have improved significantly.The menu of the first man in space, Russia’s Yuri Gagarin, consisted of tubes of ground meat and chocolate sauce for dessert. His fellow cosmonaut Gherman Titov, who was the second person in space, became the first to vomit in space because of food.Since then, cosmic meals have improved.The three-star British chef Heston Blumenthal brewed a spicy bacon sandwich and some apple and lemon pies, which he packed into cans for the arduous journey.In recent years, there has also been an expression of foods from the country of origin of astronauts such as sushi, pizza and lasagna. Now, Cohen has offered the Israeli dish of falafel.NASA has also been developing plant breeding technology to provide food for astronauts during long missions in space so that the salad can actually be prepared in space and in the future, it will be possible to grow many kinds of vegetables in the shuttle.A carbonated drink or a beer to wash down the falafel is problematic, as in microgravity conditions, the gas bubbles remain in the drink and cause hiccups and a gassy stomach. Accordingly, in the 1980s, Coca-Cola and Pepsi produced special cans for the Space Shuttle Challenger to deal with the gas problem. Beer, on the other hand, is more possible. Several commercial companies have already tried to brew beer in space, resulting in a beverage that contained less yeast.
CHEF HAIM COHEN tries to make a falafel in a reenactment of space for the Science and Technology Ministry’s Space Week activities. (Credit: משרד המדע והטכנולוגיה/YouTube)