If the question foremost on your mind at the thought of living in a colony on Mars is “But would I have access to ketchup?”, you’re going to love this news.
As CNN reports, Heinz just unveiled “Marz Edition,” a batch of ketchup made from tomatoes that were grown in agricultural conditions meant to mimic those on Mars. The site for this feat was the “Red House,” a greenhouse at the Florida Institute of Technology’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design. There, a team of researchers led by Andrew Palmer, an associate professor of biological sciences at the school’s Aldrin Space Institute, spent thousands of hours fostering tomato plants with resources similar to what future Mars farmers would have.
Instead of sunlight, for example, the tomatoes were exposed to LED lights. Researchers also brought in roughly 7800 pounds of Mojave Desert soil, a relatively close approximation of the Red Planet's rocky regolith. To maximize the project’s chances of success, Heinz agriculture experts chose four tomato varieties from the brand’s seed catalog that they thought would be most resilient in the Mars-like environment. Two prevailed; two didn’t.
Though the process may seem as straightforward and fruitful as what Matt Damon’s Mars-stranded character undertook in 2015’s The Martian, there’s a lot of meticulous tinkering that goes into it, from achieving the perfect balance of nutrients in the soil to determining how the plants should be organized. In this case, the researchers found that placing various kinds of plants together in a trough—rather than giving each its own container—helped increase microbe diversity and decrease the spread of disease. It’s not the first time scientists have tried to grow plants under Martian conditions, but, as Palmer told CNN, those studies have mainly concerned “short-term plant growth.”
“What this project has done is look at long-term food harvesting. Achieving a crop that is of a quality to become Heinz Tomato Ketchup was the dream result and we achieved it,” he said.
Unfortunately for ketchup connoisseurs and space enthusiasts, Heinz Marz Edition isn’t for sale. But rest assured that if you end up living on Mars, there’s a good chance you’ll have ketchup to put on your Martian fries.