Space snacks: Japan seeks lift-off for more accredited foods for astronauts

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

Japanese Space Food: Astronaut Kimiya Yui holding soy sauce flavoured ramen in the International Space Station. ©Twitter, Kimiya Yui, JAXA
Japanese Space Food: Astronaut Kimiya Yui holding soy sauce flavoured ramen in the International Space Station. ©Twitter, Kimiya Yui, JAXA
Astronauts currently have to eat the same meal roughly every 16 days — but this is something Japan is looking to remedy with the help of food manufacturers.

At the last count, there were 31 food items from 15 companies that have been certified as Japanese Space Food. The types of food include rice, curry, fish, ramen and desserts.

However, officials say this leaves plenty more space for new product development.

“To improve the situation and provide Japanese astronauts with meals that remind them of home, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) is actively promoting its ‘Japanese Space Food’ certification programme with various food processing firms,” ​said Kenji Yamagata ofJAXA.

JAXA started a system to certify Japanese Space Food in 2007. It encompasses stringent criteria and processes, including HACCP certification or that of an equivalent hygiene management system, a 'perishability test' to ensure the food can last for a minimum of 18 months without refrigeration, and various inspections for hygiene, nutrition and quality. There is also a sensory inspection to evaluate the taste, smell, texture and appearance of the food.

While a greater array of products will be greatly appreciated by astronauts, officials say these rigorous standards could also open up further opportunities for the certified foods.

“Japanese Space Food, which has cleared strict hygiene standards and is suitable for long-term storage, is being considered for use besides food for space. It is also suitable as an emergency food or health food,” ​added Kazuma Nogami of JAXA.

“By promoting the Japanese Space Food programme, JAXA is also looking to improve Japan’s food safety standards.”

One new product to have recently made the grade is Kameda Seiyaku Co. Ltd’s popular Kaki No Tane ‘persimmon seed’ rice snack with peanuts, which obtained approval from JAXA for its Japanese Space Food version. They are not real persimmon seeds but named so for their appearance.

The space Kaki No Tane is packaged in a small covered tray with a Velcro latch, so that astronauts can attach it to any fabric surface with Velcro and prevent the pack from floating away even in zero gravity.

It took Kameda three years of research and development to arrive at the approved version.

Probiotics in Space

Last March, Yakult and JAXA announced the initiation of a space experiment involving crew members of the International Space Station (ISS) regularly consuming probiotics. They will consume capsules containing freeze-dried live probiotic bacteria: Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota, present in Yakult drinks.

This is part of an ongoing study of the effect of “consecutive consumption”​ of probiotics on the human immune system and the intestinal microbiota of astronauts who stay on the ISS for long periods.

Yakult and JAXA have been researching the effect of probiotics on the human immune system and intestinal microbiota in a microgravity environment since 2014. This research aims to contribute to maintaining and improving the health of astronauts as well as to make contributions to human health.

It has been reported that in outer space there is a higher presence of harmful bacteria in intestines, and that immune systems function less effectively. This is a major issue for long-term space travel.

A food Odyssey

The development of space food began in the 1960s, during the Space Race, and it mainly comprised pastes in tubes or biscuits.

Japan’s Nissin Food, credited with inventing and popularising instant noodles, claimed to have the first space noodle in 2005, when Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi brought the special ball-shaped ramen or “Space Ram” on board the space shuttle Discovery.

Today’s space food includes ready-to-eat foods such as nuts, cookies, dried meat and fruit, canned food that has been cooked and sterilised, retort pack food (cooked in high heat and pressure), freeze-dried food, and even condiments.

JAXA hopes this broad range will provide manufacturers with the inspiration to see more of their products hit new heights.

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