Elevated: How potatoes went from mountaintops to the moon

Chuños, naturally freeze-dried potatoesThe process of freeze drying is easily associated with the space age, thanks to its use in making astronaut food, but it’s older than you might think. The first known use of it dates back to the Incas, who were able to naturally freeze dry their food on mountaintops thanks to cold temperatures and thin air. Potatoes were stomped daily to get the moisture out, and sublimation took care of the rest, making for lighter, more lasting food called chuños (which is still made today). This process allowed Incas to store up food for droughts, and Spaniards to try “fresh” potatoes in Europe. Though freeze drying isn’t as widely used today, NASA has managed to take the process to greater heights than even the Incas by using the technique for astronaut food. That’s because freeze-drying preserves the structure of food, as well as its vitamins and minerals. It may not be exactly the same as a fresh potato, but as anyone who’s sampled astronaut ice cream can attest to, it still tastes pretty good. Read more