It turns out that, even in space, freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies smell incredible.
Recently, a batch of chocolate chip cookies — the first food ever baked in space — returned to Earth aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule (three of the five cookies, which were baked one at a time, were returned to Earth). The cookies started out from the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel chain as Earth-made dough, which launched to the International Space Station along with the Zero G oven (the first oven designed to work in space) on Nov. 2, 2019.
Now, following the cookies' return, we have the final results from this delicious experiment.
What do space cookies smell like?
So, first things first, the astronauts aboard the space station were able to smell the second, third, fourth and fifth cookies they baked, a press representative said in an email statement (the first cookie turned out underbaked and didn't cook long enough to emit an aroma). In space, even without gravity, smells travel via individual aroma molecules. In the microgravity environment aboard the space station, these molecules travel in whatever direction they are moved. (On Earth, the aroma molecules move in all directions due to random collisions with air molecules.)
What do space cookies taste like?
Now, smelling the chocolate-chip cookies on the space station, where astronauts can eat only "space foods," you might assume that the spacefliers wouldn't be able to resist sneaking a bite of a freshly baked cookie. However, "while the brand's chocolate chip cookies were likely fit for consumption after they were baked on the ISS, additional testing is required before any food can be considered officially 'edible,'" the representative told Space.com in an email.
"But don't worry," the representative added, "astronauts aboard the ISS enjoyed special pre-baked DoubleTree chocolate-chip cookies that were sent up on Nov. 2, 2019!"
What do space cookies look like?
Before the cookie dough headed to the space station, there was speculation about how the dough would bake in microgravity. Would it puff up and bake into a sphere? Would it look like a regular cookie? Would the cookie take longer to bake? Would it take less time?
On Earth, the average cookie made with this DoubleTree chocolate-chip cookie dough took 16-18 minutes to bake in a convection oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius). The astronauts, who baked the first four cookies at 300 F and the fifth cookie at 325 F (165 C), were instructed to figure out exactly how long it would take to properly bake a cookie in space.
In baking the first cookie, they found that after 25 minutes it was underbaked. The second cookie only started to fill the station with its delicious aroma after a whopping 75 minutes in the oven.
The cookies that seemed to bake the best were the fourth and fifth cookies, which baked for 120 and 130 minutes, respectively, and were then left to cool outside the oven for 25 and 10 minutes, respectively.
So, were they spherical? Weird looking? Apparently not. The cookies looked just like cookies baked on Earth, according to a DoubleTree statement.
"Perfecting the baking process for our DoubleTree cookies took time, even on Earth, so we were excited to learn that our cookies appear to look and smell the same on the ISS as they do in our hotels," Shawn McAteer, the senior vice president and global head of DoubleTree by Hilton, said in the statement. "The innovation displayed throughout this experiment and emphasis on making long-duration space travel more hospitable underscores our ongoing commitment to ensuring guests always have a comfortable stay, wherever they may travel."
You could see the space cookies for yourself!
Want to see the cookies for yourself? First, the cookies will undergo more testing, informing our understanding of how food bakes in microgravity so that future crewed missions might be more comfortable, according to the statement.
Then, after testing, the cookies are to be preserved and put on display. One of the cookies has also been offered as a donation to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where it is being considered for display in the collection.
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Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.