Why Astronauts crave Tabasco Sauce

Why Astronauts crave Tabasco Sauce

Why Astronauts Crave Tabasco Sauce

Here's a fantastic podcast about it from NPR

If you think astronauts only want dehydrated dinners and freeze-dried ice cream, think again. After a few days in space, they start to crave hot sauce.

In fact, they may start craving foods they didn't necessarily like on Earth.

"They crave [spicy] peppers, they crave sour and sweet things," says Jean Hunter, a food engineer at Cornell University. This means that Tabasco sauce was certainly on the menu of space shuttle astronauts.

Why the sudden interest in hot peppers? Part of the reason could be that after arriving in space, astronauts lose their sense of smell, which largely governs the pleasant taste of food. Coffee is an example. "If you pinch your nose and sip your coffee, all you get is a bitter liquid," says Hunter.


French astronaut Thomas Pesquet growing peppers on the ISS

Why do astronauts lose their sense of smell, and what does this have to do with a preference for hot food? No one knows for sure, but there are some plausible ideas.

Michele Perchonok is head of NASA's food science programme. She explains that one possibility is what happens to your body fluids in a weightless environment. On Earth, gravity tends to pull these fluids down towards your feet. In space, they go everywhere, including to your head, so that after you arrive in space, you start to look like a cartoon character.

"We call it the Charlie Brown phase, because their faces have become rounder," says Perchonok. Round, because they're retaining the fluid in their heads. "And because they're retaining the fluid, they also feel like they have a cold or are congested, and again, they don't smell as much."

Perchonok asked Hunter and his team at Cornell to test the stuffy nose theory. To do this, volunteers on Earth will spend several weeks in a bed with their heads lower than their feet to try to recreate the Charlie Brown effect.

As for the preference for hot peppers, one theory is that as the sense of smell is blocked, another sense begins to take its place: the heat of the peppers.


Astronauts (from left) Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough, Akihiko Hoshide and Megan McArthur, pose with chile peppers grown aboard the station.

Astronauts (left to right) Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough, Akihiko Hoshide and Megan McArthur pose with peppers grown on the International Space Station.

Kimberly Binsted of the University of Hawaii, Manoa, is trying to determine the best menu options for people with a diminished sense of smell. She is currently recruiting participants for a Mars habitat simulation.

She plans to supply the habitats with spices, herbs and duck fat. She explains that duck fat weighs no more than margarine, is just as stable and tastes better.

She will also encourage her participants to experiment with food preparation. Even without fresh fruit and vegetables, Binsted says that interesting culinary creations can be made.

"With milk powder alone, you can make a pretty mediocre mozzarella," she says. "But it's mozzarella anyway, and after several months without fresh cheese, even a little bit of not very good mozzarella is a wonderful, wonderful thing. You can melt it on toast, you can make a basic pizza. It becomes a real treat.

And then finding new food combinations can help you forget the stress of being cooped up in a tiny space with half a dozen other people.

If the idea of pretending to be on Mars for four months appeals to you, Binsted is still accepting applications from people who want to participate in its simulation.






Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/02/23/147294191/why-astronauts-crave-tabasco-sauce?t=1637256959438

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