David Avino, managing director of the Italian company that prepares food for European astronauts, takes us along the way to make the dishes "spatial"
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Just re-read that day on the Moon by Oriana Fallaci. That monolithic personality, without nuances, with a single manic passion for flight would have dismissed the issue as the obvious satisfaction of a basic need. But today we are no longer at the dawn of human spaceflight. Today the attention to the taste, texture or color of the food the astronauts it's not a luxury. And who better than the Italians could have their say with authority? Not coincidentally the last world summit on the future of space activities, which took place in January in Washington, Italy has proposed to specialize nell'abitabilità space, including food.
If the nutritional base of the astronauts is still the American or Soviet, a few years astronauts European Space Agency (Esa) also eat the so-called bonus food, "food for special occasions", that meets their tastes. It is the aerospace company Turin Argotec that began three years ago to take care of "lunch of parties" for our Luca Parmitano. And we talk about lasagne and tiramisu. Now Argotec is responsible only for the Esa bonus food for European astronauts and is working with the goodies, 5-600 food packages, for Samantha Cristoforetti and for his fellow German Alexander Gerst.
The first Italian astronaut has made nutrition a watchword of his space mission. "He chose healthy dishes that can be made on land with little money - explains David Avino, managing director of Argotec - and with organic ingredients: vegetables, chicken, quinoa, brown rice, puffed cereals, nuts, oily fish, seafood forest, apple juice, plus a powerful antioxidant: the Asian goji berries. "
Of course this is not the menu, on which there is the strictest of confidence. The dishes are ready and are leaving for the space center in Houston where NASA will set up the cargo transfer to the International Space Station (ISS). On arrival in late November, will Cristoforetti handouts ISS already crammed the delicacies prepared by Argotec. In the coming months it will be the same astronaut to unveil in his blog what to eat, to now we ripped one secret: chicken with spicy rice.
"When the astronaut assigned to the mission, a couple of years before the flight, we present the list of culinary desires - precise Avino. We submit the dishes feasibility tests, until we get the dishes suitable for the space. The goal is, through the right storage system, for a stable and sterile, but especially tasty. "
The space food must keep for 24-36 months. On the space station you can not put in the fridge. Fundamental is therefore the sterilization process, which is accomplished in two different ways "the thermostabilization - explains Avino - for which the food is placed in an autoclave at 121 ° C for 20 minutes to kill the botulinum toxin, or dehydration, for which you delete water from foods by placing them in a freeze dryer and locks so the bacteria inside. "
That's all? Not at all, things are not so simple. Color, taste, texture of each dish is a delicate balance, achieved in a different way from flat to flat and the result of a careful study of a number of characteristic parameters, ph density. A scientific approach to the culinary arts, already introduced by some chefs like Angelo Paracucchi, or by some scientists as Dario Bressanini.
"If you were to apply the thermostabilization classic risotto or pasta would become a mass, then it should decrease a bit 'temperature or replace some ingredients in order to find the right balance."
Even for the simple apple juice Cristoforetti, researchers Argotec had to try the fruit with the right pH.
And then in the space you have to deal with other limitations: "You can not use the products they make crumbs, because they are likely to create problems for the on-board instrumentation. The breadstick is allowed only in single-serve, down in one gulp. Quinoa or rice should be aggregated with a glue just for the same reason, without which everything becomes a paste inedible. "
To complicate matters further Argotec young researchers have grappled with the dishes German astronaut Alexander Gerst:
"Certainly the dish more bizarre and challenging were his spaetzle, German dumplings filled with onions, and its variation with cheese and onions, kaiser spätzle, local dishes Stuttgart, where it comes from Gerst. Keep the dumplings beautiful consistent it not has been a joke. "
To cope with the company to Argotec were equipped so that all stages of production, from research and development to tasting, takes place within the company. The team consists of food technologists, plus a chef who is also an expert in conservation, Stefano Polato (Campiello restaurant in Monselice, Padua). And in the case of special recipes you are required other collaborations, such as with the German chef Harald Wohlfahrt (the Schwarzwaldstube in Baiersbronn in the Black Forest).
As with any technology developed for the space, even for food they are expected land uses: "The bonus food will soon enter our homes with different types, according to the health and age of consumers. Then it will be possible to use in all cases where it is necessary to have a long shelf life without refrigeration, for example in case of natural disasters, or more generally to the benefit of all the people affected. Moreover, considering the Olympics in Sochi, you can take advantage of the study on the nutritional capacity of each dish, to enhance the power of the athletes. "
Some skeptics still doubt the quality of the menu space? Here it is: "We are preparing a surprise to Samantha. I not to rovinargliela can only say that it is based on coffee. " Precise, in the kitchen, we Italians.