Functional chocolate spheres reach International Space Station

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

The Astreas truffles arrived to the International Space Station on March 5, 2024 with the SpaceX Crew-8 © dima_zel / Getty Images
The Astreas truffles arrived to the International Space Station on March 5, 2024 with the SpaceX Crew-8 © dima_zel / Getty Images

Related tags Functional foods Chocolate Multivitamin Cognitive function Space exploration

Twenty functional chocolate spheres blasted off with the SpaceX Crew-8 on March 4, arriving the next day at the International Space Station.

While it took the news some time to officially reach Earth due to NASA protocols, the food innovation start-up that developed the truffles is celebrating the crossing of this frontier as a giant leap for its mission to enhance human performance through functional food.

"We are thrilled to share Astreas chocolate spheres with the ISS crew as part of one of the crew member’s personal preference food items,” said Shahreen Reza, CEO and founder at Astreas. “Our team has been working hard to demonstrate the nutritional and performance value of Astreas' chocolate spheres, and we’ve received incredibly positive feedback from many elite performers, from astronauts to surgeons and competitive athletes to gamers.”  

Evolution of space chocolate

Space crews have enjoyed chocolate as space snack ever since Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the Earth in 1961 accompanied by a tube of chocolate syrup. Over the years, cocoa has continued to make appearances as pudding, brownies, ice cream and name-brand candy on subsequent missions.

This latest confection, crafted by award-winning chocolatier Michael Recchiuti, adds function to form by packing a 63% Valrhona dark chocolate ganache interior with nutrients and nootropics, enveloped in a crunchy cacao nib and puffed amaranth shell.

"Astreas not only tastes amazing, it delivers a wonderful boost of energy and mental clarity without the jitters and transient benefits of a high-caffeine energy drink,” said Scott Parazynski, MD, former NASA astronaut and chief operating officer at Astreas. “I'm confident Astreas will help my colleagues perform at their best while providing them a healthy treat to look forward to.”

Joey Savage of consulting firm Savage Nutra, who worked on the functional formulation, explained that there were originally both a multivitamin and an energy version but that these concepts were merged to combine benefits in the Astreas ULTRA Space Truffle.

“Not only do you get your 100% daily value multivitamin in a chocolate truffle, but you also get a little caffeine bump, some nootropics and theanine to balance it out,” he said.

To address some of the more astronaut-specific needs, the supplement facts panel includes vitamin D3 and K2 to strengthen bones and maintain calcium homeostasis; folic acid and vitamin B6 and B12 to protect cognitive and eye function; L-theanine (100 mg Suntheanine) to provide a sense of calm; caffeine (90 mg InnovaBean) for an energy boost; Lion's mane mushroom for neurogenesis; and CDP-choline (125 mg Cognizin) to improve memory and focus.

Commenting on Cognizin's extraterrestrial debut, Maria Stanieich, marketing manager at Kyowa Hakko USA, said, “We are thrilled that Cognizin is part of Astreas' innovative endeavor, delivering chocolate spheres to the International Space Station to help fuel astronauts’ focus and attention. It's a testament to the boundless possibilities of human ingenuity and the versatility of our product in even the most extraordinary settings.” 

Mission functional space food

The truffle belongs to a wider enterprise to advance spaceflight nutrition and well-being through the development of a constellation of functional foods.

In 2021, Astreas took home a NASA Deep Space Food Challenge prize with partner Aleph Farms (as Mission: Space Food consortium) for its project to create a closed-loop system that would cultivate and cook steak in space. The annual challenge recognizes "novel food production technologies or systems that require minimal resources and produce minimal waste, while providing safe, nutritious and tasty food for long-duration human exploration missions."

Scott Smith, PhD, nutritionist and manager for nutritional biochemistry at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, noted in a 2022 NutraIngredients-USA article on microencapsulating omega-3 fatty acids for extended shelf life​ that work is ongoing to counter the serious effects of space travel like bone and muscle loss, cardiovascular decondition, changes in vision and decreased immune system function.

“Cognition, performance and morale can also be affected on long-duration missions, where isolation and distance from Earth is greater,” he said.

In terms of what's next for Astreas, the company said that it will continue to fine-tune taste and nutritional profile based on astronaut feedback and has its sights set on developing other functional space foods including savory snacks to cater future moon missions and an eventual trip to Mars. 

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