H.J. Heinz has been dominating the ketchup market on Earth for almost 150 years. Now, the American food company wants to ensure future space travelers also have access to the tasty condiment. On November 9, 2021, the company unveiled its “Marz Edition” ketchup. The unique recipe contains tomatoes grown under conditions similar to those on the Red Planet.
The celestial sauce was created in collaboration with the Florida Institute of Technology’s Aldrin Space Institute. A team of 14 scientists, working at a lab called “The RedHouse,” began by altering soil to mimic that on Mars. The Red Planet’s nutrient-poor soil is laced with toxic chemicals called perchlorates, which need to be removed in order for plants to grow. They also had to simulate Mars’ temperature and atmospheric conditions. Mars is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit colder than Earth, and its atmosphere primarily comprises carbon dioxide. The planet also does not get as much sunlight and boasts a gravity just 40 percent that of Earth.
It took the researchers nine months to grow tomatoes fit for the approval of Heinz’s “Tomato Masters” — seven of the world’s foremost experts on ketchup tomatoes! While the condiment will not be available in supermarkets, Dr. Andrew Palmer, who led the Aldrin Space Institute team, believes the effort was well worth it. The expert believes the groundbreaking research not only promotes the likelihood of food production on Mars, but may also be helpful for growing crops in remote and inhospitable areas on Earth.
“With regards to our own survival on this planet, one of the big questions is how do we grow in soils that are less than ideal,” Dr. Palmer says. “Before now, most efforts around discovering ways to grow in Martian-simulated conditions are short-term plant growth studies. What this project has done is look at long-term food harvesting.”
The tomato harvest is not the only recent gardening victory for space travelers. On November 2, 2021, scientists at the International Space Station (ISS) enjoyed what American astronaut Megan McArthur described as her “best space tacos” yet. They were made using fajita beef, rehydrated tomatoes and artichokes, and, most importantly, the first-ever space-grown chilies! While the astronauts have previously grown crops like lettuce and radishes, peppers have proved elusive because they take longer to germinate and bear fruit.