Crumb-Free Bread Is the Latest Space Food Invention

Tortillas are allowed in space, but bread generates too many crumbs. NASA

Space tourism has its draws: the incredible views, weightlessness. One perk that probably doesn't come to mind when you imagine space travel, however, is the food. That is, unless freeze-dried or dehydrated food washed down with a gulp of Tang whets your appetite.

Soon, though, space cuisine could get a lot more toothsome thanks to the latest in space food technology: crumb-free bread, reports New Scientist.

A company called Bake In Space, founded by visionary Sebastian Marcu, wants to bring all the smells and tastes of freshly baked bread to astronauts and future space tourists. With help from the German Aerospace Centre and food scientists from several other research organizations, Marcu is developing a dough mixture and space-safe baking process that can allow bread to be made and eaten in a weightless environment.

"As space tourism takes off and people spend more time in space we need to allow bread to be made from scratch," said Marcu.

The first and the last time that bread was ever consumed while in orbit was during NASA’s 1965 Gemini 3 mission, when two astronauts snuck a corned beef sandwich on board. It nearly sacrificed the whole mission. Crumbs from the bread flew everywhere in the microgravity, which could have gotten into the astronauts' eyes or, worse, into the electrical panels where it could have started a fire. Bread has been banned from space flights ever since.

The most challenging aspect of making crumbless bread, it turns out, is the texture. Bread without crumbs tends to be chewy and tough, which isn't exactly a texture that one expects when biting into a sandwich. But dough that produces crumbless bread can have an improved texture if it is baked fresh, and therein lies the rub. If you thought that crumbs floating into electrical panels was a fire risk, imagine the risk associated with an oven on board.

Any working oven aboard the International Space Station would have to be capable of operating without warming exterior surfaces beyond around 113 degrees Fahrenheit. There's also limited electricity available, so any space oven would probably need to operate on a tenth of the power of a standard oven.

Matthias Boehme at OHB System AG, a Bremen-based company that develops equipment for use in space, is currently working with Bake In Space to build an oven that matches these specs. They are also considering a process known as vacuum baking, whereby lower pressures also lower the boiling point of water.

So far, the bread that gets produced by ovens like this is still different in texture than the bread you're used to; it's apparently "fluffier," but at least it's palatable. There might even be a market for fluffy space bread back here on Earth. At least, that's what Marcu and Boehme are counting on while they wait for the space tourism industry to catch on.

“We could sell original space rolls in bakeries [here on Earth],” suggested Boehme.