On Monday, Heinz revealed its first bottle of "Marz Edition" ketchup, a special recipe made with tomatoes grown in extreme temperature and soil conditions similar to the Red Planet. The team of scientists behind the celestial sauce, which is the product of two years of research and development, says the delicious achievement also advances the possibility of long-term food production on Mars.
"We're so excited that our team of experts have been able to grow tomatoes in conditions found on another planet and share our creation with the world," Cristina Kenz of Kraft Heinz said in a statement. "From analyzing the soil from Martian conditions two years ago to harvesting now, it's been a journey that's proved wherever we end up, Heinz Tomato Ketchup will still be enjoyed for generations to come.”
To simulate Mars-like conditions, the team chemically altered Earth-based soil to mimic that of Mars, and grew the tomatoes under the same temperature and water conditions found on the surface of the planet. Compared to Earth, Mars is more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit colder, has an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide, and decreased sunlight and gravity, according to Quartz’s Ananya Bhattacharya. By using artificial light sources, fertilizing the soil, and leaching toxins out of the soil, scientists made the dirt hospitable for tomatoes and a few other crops like barley and kale. Even though the tomatoes were grown under these special conditions, the final sauce has the same ingredients as the original Heinz ketchup.
"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," said Andrew Palmer, who led the team at the Florida Institute of Technology's Aldrin Space Institute. "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 ketchup is the latest culinary victory for astronauts, who recently hosted a taco party in the International Space Station using the first chile peppers grown in space, reports Sherry Liang for CNN. But these efforts are about more than creating novelty foods—the research behind the Marz Edition sauce and similar products will inform future space exploration. If humans want to establish a long-term presence on Mars, the ability to grow food in harsh conditions is key. Those same applications could also be used here on Earth to learn how crops can be grown in more remote and harsh places, reports Robert Z. Pearlman for Space.
"Achieving a crop that is of a quality to become Heinz Tomato Ketchup was the dream result and we achieved it,” said Palmer. “Working with the 'Tomato Masters' at Heinz has allowed us to see what the possibilities are for long-term food production beyond Earth.”
The batch of Marz Edition sauce passed Heinz’s quality tests, but it hasn’t been approved for public consumption and won’t be on grocery store shelves any time soon. Heinz hosted a live taste test of the new ketchup today on social media channels, including Twitter and Instagram.