Last week, I watched the last manned space flight (for now) take off from Florida to the International Space Station. I’m still amazed at the intensity of the launch and how quickly the shuttle reaches orbit. While watching this historic event via my computer, several questions popped into my head: What’s it like to shoot into space, walk around in zero gravity and how does Astronaut food taste?
These freeze-dried curiosities used to only be available at specialty retailers like science museums but can now be found in the checkout line at Fry’s Electronics. They claim to have been used by NASA in current and historic space missions. While I probably won’t be flying to Mars any time soon, I can have a taste of what it’s like to eat in space.
Full dinners, snacks and desserts are available freeze-dried and some are ready to eat. But how do they taste?
Beef Stew Space Dinner
The beef stew dinner is labeled as a complete meal and includes beef stew, corn and instant chocolate pudding– yup, all freeze-dried– in three individual packages sealed in a larger package.
There is some preparation needed for this dinner. Boiling water is the only ingredient needed for both the beef stew (1 1/4 cups) and corn (1/4 cup) with a quick stir and some time covered to rehydrate. As for dessert, the chocolate pudding only requires 1/2 cup of cold water and a few minutes in the refrigerator to chill. The freeze-dried corn resembles kernels for popcorn but drier, the beef stew is something else to behold. What looks to be square marshmallows are actually freeze-dried cubes of potato. I couldn’t help but think “where’s the beef?”
The beef is actually covered up in a powdery substance and is only revealed once the boiling water is poured into the bowl. Even then, the presence of beef is minimal. Even after the “stew” had the required time to reabsorb the water, the soup base is a murky gray with floating bits of potato, peas, carrots and beef. For a dish that has 950mg of sodium, this stew was missing something besides flavor. For those adventurous to take this camping, I suggest bringing hot sauce and an iron stomach.
The corn side dish is passable but still off and still a bit crunchy even after reabsorbing the hot water. The chocolate pudding is the best part of meal. It doesn’t stray too far from common instant pudding mixes.
The entire meal is 300 calories, only 20 percent are calories from fat making this extremely low-fat. But it’s also tasteless with the exception of the pudding.
What can go wrong with freeze-dried peaches. Apparently, everything.
What I imagine what was once a luscicious peach has been segmented and freeze-dried into withered orange-tinged slices that stick to your teeth. They were bitter with only a tiny bit of sweetness. It’s a hard snack to finish and I think even the ants outside would leave this one untouched.
Astronaut Ice Cream Sandwich
The Astronaut ice cream sandwich comes in a few flavors: cookies and cream, vanilla and neapolitan. For this taste test, I stuck with my tried-and-true favorite: vanilla.
Inside the package is a hard, paper-wrapped block of “ice cream.” It resembles the typical ice cream sandwiches you’d get at the store but there’s one difference, this ice cream is crumbly. There’s nothing creamy about it.
Still, the calorie count for the ice cream is pretty high at 210 with 70 of it from fat. Ingredients include milkfat, sugar, nonfat milk, corn syrup and a list of other three-syllable words that don’t come from nature.
But compared to the beef stew dinner and peaches, this is the best of the bunch. The ice cream texture resembles a meringue and drinking it with a glass of frosty milk may help confuse your taste buds enough to make you think you were eating a decadent dessert.
I’m always looking for food to have on hand in case of an emergency, and I plan to stick to dried and canned goods. The fun of Astronaut food is merely that: fun. Consuming it as your main meal requires otherworldly taste buds.