A video showcasing the frying of potatoes in space, bearing the stamp of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh), was included in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) 2023 review. This video highlighted experiments conducted by the Multifasic Systems Dynamics Group of the Laboratory of Chemical and Environmental Technology, part of the chemistry faculty at the university.

“If you fried potatoes on the planet Jupiter, they would likely taste better than on Earth,” the video posted by ESA begins.
Dubbed as “space frying,” was the way the experiment was described by the head of the chemistry faculty at AUTh and director of the lab, Prof. Theodoros Karapantsios, was quoted by the state-run news agency.

The specific AUTh lab is currently designing the “space fryer,” the device aimed to complement astronauts’ living facilities.
“We managed to fry real potatoes under conditions of microgravity and observed that it can be done,” Prof. Karapantsios added. The team is now working to develop the “space fryer,” solving technological hurdles that come with frying in zero gravity conditions and managing whatever odors emitted within a closed space that lacks any external ventilation.

The concept of space-fried potatoes didn’t originate at AUTh. The suggestion was made to Prof. Karapantsios and his team by officials from NASA and ESA, during a forum held at the Johnson Space Center.

The AUTh team’s concept of frying potatoes in space emerged due to astronauts expressing their cravings for fried potatoes during space travels.
The Greek professor reflected on the project, saying, “The work on this specific question started eight years ago. Firstly, we had to prove that we could do it to secure funding. This period was exciting, as numerous experiments initially had to be conducted on a large scale – with many potatoes – in the laboratory. We had to find suitable online measuring devices that would provide reliable information about the progress of frying, both within the potato and within the oil. Then it was deemed necessary to conduct the experiment on the large diameter centrifuge located at the European Space Agency facilities to quantitatively evaluate the effects of gravity acceleration changes.”

The endeavor illustrates a significant stride in understanding the complexities of cooking in space environments and addresses the essential aspect of astronauts’ dietary needs during prolonged space missions.

The experimental device – a fryer developed by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh) – was taken from the laboratory to the air and into parabolic flights, where demands for coordination and organization were particularly high. “Everything had to be organized with precision down to the second,” said Mr. Karapantsios, describing the process of the parabolic flights, during which the scientific team members had to complete parts of the experiment within the 25 seconds of weightlessness, which lasted as long as each “parabolic dive” of the aircraft.
In total, 186 25-second parabolic dives were conducted over six days in two campaigns of parabolic flights. Thousands of bubbles were released and recorded by high-speed cameras during the “frying.”

Based on the experiment for space, the AUTh Laboratory team members discovered that mild planetary rotation on two axes – without creating very high forces – could achieve frying at lower temperatures and in a shorter time. This means fewer to no carcinogenic products and energy savings. Additionally, the oil does not degrade quickly, allowing it to be used for more frying sessions. Therefore, they developed a machine that they have patented, currently seeking to market it. Moreover, as revealed by Mr. Karapantsios, American companies have already shown interest.

Highlighting the high nutritional value of olive oil, the AUTh team suggested that frying in Space be done using olive oil, although it is known that high temperatures during frying degrade it. “Nevertheless, the psychological importance of astronauts consuming such a product is significant, and that’s why we used Greek olive oil in our experiments, thereby showcasing our country’s ‘green gold’ of the agri-food sector,” the Greek researcher concluded.