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Astronauts Are Getting a Space Bakery

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While bread is currently banned on the International Space Station, it will soon make its way back into astronauts’ diets thanks to Bake in Space, a German project aimed at developing a bread maker and dough that can safely be used in microgravity, as New Scientist and Atlas Obscura report.

The culinary staple is currently banned from space missions because in space, crumbs can be dangerous. Currently, if an astronaut wants a PB&J, they have to use a tortilla.

Bake in Space hopes to develop a system that can make fresh German-style bread rolls in microgravity, giving space travelers a semblance of Earthly normalcy at dinnertime. As missions to far-flung destinations like Mars become more plausible, astronauts will need to be able to feed themselves for years on end, and being able to make a fresh loaf of bread would be a lot more pleasant for a homesick crew than exclusively eating pre-packaged space food.

Bread hasn’t always been absent from space missions. A contraband sandwich on the 1965 Gemini 3 mission caused a major incident. Astronaut John Young had surreptitiously brought a corned beef sandwich onto the flight in his spacesuit. When he took it out for a bite, little bits of rye bread began floating throughout the cabin. It didn’t cause a disaster, but the crumbs could have gotten into a crewmember’s eye or into delicate equipment in the spacecraft.

Astronauts eat bread slices on the space shuttle Discovery.
NASA

Young quickly put the sandwich back into his pocket, but he got an earful about it when he returned to Earth. The U.S. House of Representatives appropriations committee held a meeting about the incident, in part because congressmen were upset that the astronauts were smuggling food into space instead of testing out the high-tech food that had been developed especially for them.

Bread did make it back into space, but it wasn’t your average loaf. While Apollo astronauts made sandwiches and ate bite-sized cinnamon bread, the bread was coated in a layer of gelatin to prevent it from crumbling. The NASA photograph above is from the 1985 Discovery space shuttle.

Bake in Space is working with engineers, food scientists, and Earth-bound bakers to develop its space bread, which is scheduled for testing on a 2018 European Space Agency trip to the International Space Station. The company has yet to develop a recipe, though, and is still working out how it will be made. The loaves will need to balance out the need for crumble-free bread with astronauts’ understandable desire not to eat rock-hard rolls. Somehow, they’ll have to come up with a way to make a fluffy bread that will remain crumb-free.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
What is Duck Sauce?
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A plate of Chinese takeout with egg rolls and duck sauce
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We know that our favorite Chinese takeout is not really authentically Chinese, but more of an Americanized series of menu options very loosely derived from overseas inspiration. (Chinese citizens probably wouldn’t recognize chop suey or orange-glazed chicken, and fortune cookies are of Japanese origin.) It would also be unusual for "real" Chinese meals to be accompanied by a generous amount of sauce packets.

Here in the U.S., these condiments are a staple of Chinese takeout. But one in particular—“duck sauce”—doesn’t really offer a lot of information about itself. What exactly is it that we’re pouring over our egg rolls?

Smithsonian.com conducted a sauce-related investigation and made an interesting discovery, particularly if you’re not prone to sampling Chinese takeout when traveling cross-country. On the East Coast, duck sauce is similar to sweet-and-sour sauce, only fruitier; in New England, it’s brown, chunky, and served on tables; and on the West Coast, it’s almost unheard of.

While the name can describe different sauces, associating it with duck probably stems from the fact that the popular Chinese dish Peking duck is typically served with a soybean-based sauce. When dishes began to be imported to the States, the Americanization of the food involved creating a sweeter alternative using apricots that was dubbed duck sauce. (In New England, using applesauce and molasses was more common.)

But why isn’t it easily found on the West Coast? Many sauce companies are based in New York and were in operation after Chinese food had already gained a foothold in California. Attempts to expand didn’t go well, and so Chinese food aficionados will experience slightly different tastes depending on their geography. But regardless of where they are, or whether they're using the condiment as a dipping sauce for their egg rolls or a dressing for their duck, diners can rest assured that no ducks were harmed in the making of their duck sauce.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Food
A Hamilton-Themed Cookbook is Coming
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Hamilton Broadway

Fans of Broadway hit Hamilton will soon be able to dine like the Founding Fathers: As Eater reports, a new Alexander Hamilton-inspired cookbook is slated for release in fall 2017.

Cover art for Laura Kumin's forthcoming cookbook
Amazon

Called The Hamilton Cookbook: Cooking, Eating, and Entertaining in Hamilton’s World, the recipe collection by author Laura Kumin “takes you into Hamilton’s home and to his table, with historical information, recipes, and tips on how you can prepare food and serve the food that our founding fathers enjoyed in their day,” according to the Amazon description. It also recounts Hamilton’s favorite dishes, how he enjoyed them, and which ingredients were used.

Recipes included are cauliflower florets two ways, fried sausages and apples, gingerbread cake, and apple pie. (Cue the "young, scrappy, and hungry" references.) The cookbook’s official release is on November 21—but until then, you can stave off your appetite for all things Hamilton-related by downloading the musical’s new app.

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