Astronauts Scott Kelly, Kjell N. Lindgren, and Kimiya Yui just sampled the first 100 percent space-grown meal ever—a crunchy head of red romaine lettuce.
The lettuce seeds were delivered to the International Space Station in May 2014 for an experiment called Veg-01. The first batch was planted and harvested that year, and then sent back to Earth to be analyzed in October. After ground-based tests declared them safe to eat, the next batch was planted July 8 so it could round out the ISS lunch menu today.
"The initial plan was to use those lettuce leaves in a lettuce wrap, with some oil and vinegar to taste," said a NASA TV commentator as Kelly, Lindgren, and JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui prepared the lettuce. "We'll see what they ultimately come up with on their menu."
In the end, the three astronauts simply doused the leaves in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and ate them at without any other accoutrements.
"Cheers," they said while "clinking" the leaves together.
"That's awesome," Lindgren said, after a moment.
"Tastes like arugula," added Kelly.
Given that astronauts mostly eat freeze-dried, powdered, irradiated, or dehydrated versions of Earth fare, finding ways to nurture reliable fresh ingredients in space should be a real palate-cleanser for future missions.
While the astronauts do get deliveries of fresh food, they have to binge on it before it spoils, then wait for months for the next batch. That's why space gardens like the ISS's new Veggie plant unit, where the lettuce was grown, are so important to develop for longer duration space missions to asteroids, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
In the meantime, maybe the ISS crew should ~toss around~ some new ideas for red lettuce recipes. Here's a shortlist of what we'd recommend:
Quasar Salad: Like Caesar salad, but with space lettuce. Unfortunately, there are no salad dressings on the ISS at the moment (beyond oil and vinegar) so NASA, if you are reading this, please add Caesar dressing and croutons to the next launch manifest, stat.
The Cristoforetti Space Taco… Now With Lettuce: The crew teased the possibility of eating today's harvest in a tortilla wrap, but in the end, they went au naturel. But as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti demonstrated with her numerous cooking tutorials, space tacos are a delicious option onboard the ISS, and now they can be accompanied with a tart veggie crunch. Cristoforetti would be proud.
Reverse Lettuce Wrap: Some people like to use lettuce leaves in place of tortillas when making wraps. It is possible on Earth. Why not in space? The sky is no longer the limit for reverse lettuce wraps.
Burgers… Now With Lettuce: It's time to start eating civilized burgers on the ISS.
The Giant Leaf for Mankind: Last but certainly not least, it would be great to see the ISS crews revisit the recipe they used today: Lettuce sprinkled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This historic dish may be simple, but by all accounts, it was delicious.