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Kitchen Chemistry

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Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67945 Points

I found the thread below on the general Science listserve. This is a topic that I think a lot of people may be interested in, especially elementary, middle school, and informal educators: Hello, I am preparing an afterschool enrichment Kitchen Chemistry Class for 7th and 8th grade at an urban school. Have you taught something comparable? Would you share good experiments/activities, or a lesson plan that help students will little previous exposure to science understand chem/ physical concepts used in a kitchen in hands-on activities? I have compiled a few interesting experiments like the cabbage acid/base indicator to test household products, baking soda vs. powder tests and the bone and raw egg in vinegar test but I am looking for more ideas for the 7 individual sessions I will teach. We will meet once a week in a lab setting for 1.5 h so enough time for an experiment and an activity. Thanks a million!! Stephanie Lauenstein I would like to offer a collection of articles with some great ideas for kitchen chemistry. The collection is attached. Also, the Exploratorium has a lot of great ideas for chemistry. I have used the candy chemistry with the age group you are working with, and it was a fabulous hit. We made lollipops, and fudge for the assessment.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89743 Points

Hi Jennifer, I used to have a recipe for candy - I think it was peanut brittle. I will look for it. It was all in metrics and used all lab equipment. It was a fun thing to do around the holidays and provided students with practice measuring in metrics.

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67945 Points

The candy chemistry at the Exploratorium site encourages students to observe chemical changes as the temperature changes. I was amazed at how many students had little or no experience in the kitchen, and they were really excited to be able to measure ingredients and temperature changes as the consistency of the mixture changed. We actually did it as part of a polymer project that a group of the students was working on.

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

Hi Jennifer and Stephanie,

There is a similar topic being discussed in the Life Science discussion board under the topic heading Organic Molecules. There are lots of great ideas for doing a kitchen chemistry lesson. I'll repost this on the listserv, too.


Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67945 Points

Thanks. I knew I had seen another thread with similar information.

Dorian Janney Dorian Janney 10465 Points

Another wonderful activity is to make density column using oil, water, molasses, and a few other common kitchen liquids, and then adding a few solids (like a piece of a toothpick, a bean, etc...) to see if they float or sink.

Tina Harris Tina Harris 65805 Points

For acids and bases I asked my students to bring in samples of chemical or detergents/soaps/conditioner/etc. around their house. I brought in orange juice, tomato juice, rolaids, pepto bismol, milk and yogurt. We used universal indicator paper, spot plate, and toothpicks for mixing and we tested about 15 (that's all who remembered to bring something by lab day and eliminated duplicates) and made a chart of the apparent pH's of the different substances.

Students were surprised to find out that they ate or drank things that tested acidic and that they cleaned with things that were generally basic. They had never considered that ordinary products could be acids or bases - even when we discussed that chemicals are all around us and in us, it seems to have brought it home (at least a little!)

Megan Rawson Megan Rawson 50 Points

This activity sounds like so much fun, and a great introduction to acids and bases. Thank you for posting it!

Susan German Susan German 32165 Points

Have you seen a new book from NSTA? I have read one of the chapters that you can get in the Learning Center and will attach below. The author gives details about how to handle the projects safely in the classroom.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

Hi Sue. I bought Gourmet Lab and have only started to read it. I agree that eating lab products sends a mixed message at best. I do like that there is a connection between science and life. Regarding the Ball part Pretzel lab, I have done a variation of this where we vary the quantities of two or three ingredients to create a DOE and analyze with simple ANOVA statistics with HS and or College students

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

Here is another good source for science one can do at home http://scifun.chem.wisc.edu/ The master of chemical demonstrations and science policy advocate, University of Wisconsin-Madison Chemistry Professor Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, shares the fun of science through home science activities, public presentations, scholarship, and other programs of the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

I noticed that both Jennifer and I have created collections on Kitchen chemistry. Here is the one that I created.

Kitchen Chemistry Collection (10 items)
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Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

I have another related collection Teaching Chemistry with cooking. I should merge the two collections. Anyone knowing how to do this please chime in. Here is the second collection

Teaching Chemistry with Cooking Collection (5 items)
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Diana Lennon Diana Soehl 1200 Points

One activity that might be fun are what a colleague and I call "the sugar cube races" to help teach about solubility and how to change the rate of reaction. Students use sugar cubes place them in a beaker of tap water (room temp) and time the cube dissolving. Then crush up the cube and observe dissolving rate. The you do stirring and another beaker with warm/hot water. It helps to see how agitation, surface area, heat increase rates. Hope this helps. (As for merging the collections-- maybe you just have to add the items one by one to one of the collections.) If you find an answer let us all know. Here's a link to one handout that could be helpful (not mine---I only have a paper copy and it's not scanned in). http://www.denmark.k12.wi.us/faculty/kraschnl/sugar%20cube%20race%20lab.pdf Diana Soehl

Adrienne Evans Adrienne Evans 210 Points

Pamela, Thanks so much for your post ! I have LOVED the Nekkid (my euphemism) Scientists for a long time now and I have interacted with them for years in Second Life. They tend to bring in cutting edge researchers and ask questions that induce a common knowledge for people to tie in to thoughts/models/beliefs with what they currently understand. If you listen to them closely, you will clearly understand that they are building on what an average person already knows. I do think "Science Friday" on NPR cares (I love them too), but do I feel our TNS Science counterparts might care a little more about true understanding. NPR seems to understand high level science and a little less about making it accessible/understandable to everyone. Have a blessed night!! -Adrienne

Loren Nomura Loren Nomura 4055 Points

Since you referred to acids and bases, I thought I'd share a cool interactive online activity that I did in my class at http://sv.berkeley.edu/showcase/flash/juicebar.html The students loved it and enjoyed feeding various drinks to the 'aliens.' The activity is called alien juice bar. The worksheet that the students can fill out for this activity is at http://www.middleschoolscience.com/alienjuicebar.pdf If you have time I would recommend trying it.

We are harvesting our extensive garden at home and at the first year garden in our local school. Though not activities , per se, I found the Chemistry Now videos to help with understanding IE Chemistry in Pickles and Why Tomatoes Redden.


I am also making Kimchi this harvest season. Here is an NSTA journal article !

Korean Kimchi Chemistry
Connecting science with different cultures is one way to interest students in science, to relate science to their lives, and at the same time to broaden their horizons in a variety of ways. In the lesson described here, students make kimchi, a delicious and popular Korean dish that can be used to explore many important chemistry concepts, including fermentation, chemical reactions, and acidity and alkalinity.

During this activity, students use scientific techniques and methods to explore the nature of kimchi, they learn to measure the pH of a food using a variety of techniques, and they come to understand the ways that food can be preserved.


Adah Stock Adah Stock 101510 Points

Here is another suggestion. Go to Amazon.com and type in the title 'Kitchen Chemistry'. There are several good books out there. Write down the titles and then check your public library to see if they have them. You can check them out and get some ideas. Hope this helps. Adah

Jeanne Lee Miller Jeanne Lee Miller 305 Points

Jennifer, I give my kids a recipe in metrics & make them convert it to English, then I let them make it.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

Arlene Thank you so much for sharing. I have been looking for ideas to present at the Sally Ride conference here in Houston in February. This give me some great "food" for thought. Pam

Colin Delos Reyes Colin Delos Reyes 1430 Points

I like using kitchen chemistry in my classes because students seem to learn concepts better because it is much more relevant to them then using normal "chemistry class" chemicals. The fact that the students can actually do the experiment with items they are much more familiar with helps their understanding. Using red cabbage indicator for household goods seems to be one the favorites in my chemistry class, and many students are amazed that cleaners are basic which to them seems counter intuitive. Somewhere along the line, (maybe from TV) I think they get an idea that since they see acids dissolve things so they must clean things to. I need to try the kim chee lab I read about above. Here in Hawai'i kim chee is very popular and this will make the concept of pH even more relevant to my students. Not to mention any thing that deals with food at the high school level is always a big hit among the students, especially if they get to sample.

My Chemistry students and I also enjoy using kitchen and household goods in our experiments. These are two basic ideas, but they are simple, fun, and delicious! My kids love these two "labs": Ice Cream Lab (specific heat and phase changes) -- involves flavored milk (and cream, if desired), sealed in a small Ziploc bag, then placed into a larger bag with lots of ice and salt. Students spend 15 minutes shaking/throwing/kneading the bag. They measure initial and final temperatures and observe what happens to the milk and the ice. Then they get to enjoy the yummy goodness inside. [This lab can get messy! Cover your tables with newspaper first.] S'mores Lab (stoichiometry) -- Students write their own "reactions" for creating a s'more. For example, 2 graham crackers + 2 marshmallows + 3 pc. chocolate --> 1 s'more. Students measure the masses of one unit of each ingredient; they also take note of the total mass of an entire package. I provide each group with a certain amount of each ingredient and they follow their recipe for creating a s'more. They have to figure out how many complete s'mores they could create from one box/package of each ingredient, based on the masses. Thank you for all the suggestions and resources above. To expose my students to the omnipresence of chemistry in real life and in food, I like to show them clips/episodes of "Marcel's Quantum Kitchen" (on syfy network; you can watch episodes on hulu.com) -- it's all about molecular gastronomy, fun with food. :)

Jennifer Perry Jennifer Perry 2250 Points

Whenever I taught US History and we studied the Panama Canal, I would have the students drink a little tonic water for what was believed to be a malaria control. Last week, while studying Captain Cook, I had them nibble on a little bit of saurkraut for scurvy control. Have any of you used these in science lessons?

Patricia Rourke Patricia Rourke 45925 Points

Yum...yum...candy,pretzels, s'mores, and kinchi as portals into the world of chemistry. As I scanned this thread I found some great resources, many already mentioned, and decided to put together a small collection for those new to the site - they will have to search for those mentioned, however:} Anyway...here is a start for new readers and contributors to this long thread...patty

Kitchen Chemistry Collection (9 items)
Jeanne Lee Miller Jeanne Lee Miller 305 Points

Another good Kitchen Chemistry activity deals with proving or disproving the law of conservation of mass. Have students mass the popcorn that is in the pie pan before cooking and after cooking. I buy my popcorn at Target. They almost always have the popcorn in the pie pan with foil on it.

Levia Henckel Levia Henckel 630 Points

Thanks to Patricia, Pamela and Francesca for your collections as well as ideas about ice cream. I teach 8th grade Family and Consumer Science in rural area with large Hispanic and Native American populations. Constitution Day is coming soon and we always make ice cream since it was a popular dish with our founding fathers - I always try to include some of the science of freezing when we do this activity. Thank you for all your help.

Patricia Rourke Patricia Rourke 45925 Points

Hi All :} There are great ideas in this forum and you may glean additional ideas from the upcoming NSTA webinar September 22, 2011 – Food Chemistry in the High School Classroom Title: Food Chemistry in the High School Classroom I Dates: Thursday, September 22, 2011 Time: 6:30p.m.-8:00p.m. Eastern Time Presenters: Michael Tinnesand and Sally Mitchell go ahead and register today.... http://learningcenter.nsta.org/products/symposia_seminars/ACS/webseminar5.aspx ~patty

Kate Dickinson Kate Dickinson 510 Points

For acids and bases you can use universal indicator or red cabbage juice, milk of magnesia and vinegar. Since milk of magnesia if Mg(OH)2 and vinegar is a week acid with only has 1 proton to donate you can also show how balancing affects the amount of vinegar you need to add in order to neutralize the solution. Another fun activity is splitting water in a petri dish using a 9V battery, indicator and some simple wiring. If you hook up the wires to the positive and negative ends of the battery and put then in water with indicator will show how hydrolysis will produce an acidic and basic solution at the end of each wire and the color will change.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89743 Points

Patty, I would like to 'second' your suggestion to watch the Webinar on Food Chemistry in the High School Classroom. I participated in the live web seminar and it was excellent. Now interested colleagues can click on the 'archive' button to view it at their leasure and download the ppt presentation. I got some great ideas!

Kristin Fitzgerald Kristin Fitzgerald 350 Points

I sure wish I had the time that some folks have to find all this stuff! I'll try to use my limited time to mooch off of y'all though!

Daniel Scheldrup Daniel Scheldrup 20 Points

I am in the process of writing a curriculum unit on acid-base chemistry and I would really like to incorporate a kitchen chemistry experiment. I saw a lot of really neat ideas proposed so I was wondering if anyone has any ideas on experiments that I would be able to connect to acids or bases? Thanks!

Ann Kennedy Ann Kennedy 1250 Points

I just recently conducted the ice cream lab with colleagues. As described in a previous post, this is a great activity when studying phase changes and freezing point. I have found that the cream mixture will typically freeze within ten minutes or less when using ample salt. I received some great feedback to also conduct the lab using a bag of ice without the salt. This presents an opportunity for students to compare the results and draw conclusions about the use of the salt.

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67945 Points

There is a relatively new resource Gourmet Labs that might be useful to you as well. Although not free, there is a free sample activity from the book in the attached collection. I am considering using several in a science class for alternative high school students in the spring.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

McGee recounts how he moved from studying astronomy, to teaching literature and writing, to writing about the science of cooking, to designing an experiment to address the question of why you should beat egg whites in a copper bowl, and ultimately to a successful career as a food science book author, blogger, columnist and lecturer. http://ibiomagazine.org/issues/april-2012-issue/harold-mcgee.html

Susan German Susan German 32165 Points

Hi Daniel,

You mentioned needing kitchen chemistry activities connected to acids and bases. You did not say what grade level, I am assuming more middle school. Have you check out Teacher's Domain with this online simulation?

Elizabeth Jacobs Elizabeth Jacobs 2520 Points

Hello Everyone, This is a fascinating topic! I have worked in restaurants for a long time in addition to working in chemistry labs and in classrooms. There is no escaping chemistry when it comes to cooking! I plan on adding resources from the Food Network (especially from Alton Brown, "Good Eats" and "Unwrapped" with Marc Summers) as soon as I have time! I would like to thank everyone who posted in this thread, and I have created a collection in my library, from the resources posted by other NSTA members. I would like to thank, very graciously, Diana Soehl, Pamela Auburn, Jennifer Rahn, Susan German, Loren Nomura, Arlene Jurewicz Leighton, and Patricia Rourke, as I have collated their resources/resource collections into a collection in my library. Thank you so much, and I have attached the collection I started. Have a great night, and I look forward to returning to this topic! Thank you!

Kitchen Chemistry from Other NSTA Members Collection (14 items)
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Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

Elizabeth, Thank you so much for taking the time to assemble this collection and sharing. Aggregating the knowledge created though this community is very valuable to everyone. I for one am grateful for your effort. Pam

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

While not exactly "kitchen" chemistry glow sticks are cheap and can be used for a variety of demonstrations. I have used then to show the effect of temperature on reaction rates. The authors of this article are far more creative.


Joey Hajda Joey Hajda 30 Points

You might be interested in a curriculum known as Friendly Chemistry. It does a really good job of explaining the hard concepts and utilizes many kitchen chemistry labs. Look for it at friendlychemistry.com or on facebook.

Rochelle Tamiya Rochelle Tamiya 4085 Points

Thank you for starting this thread! All of the many ideas have really got me wanting to do more chemistry in my life science class (with my 7th graders)!! I think they would LOVE the candy one as well as the sugar (rate of dissolving) activities. Although I really was not actively looking for a chemistry lesson, I do know that the power of the community forums always sparks creative ideas which those that are on so generously share...thank you for that! AND....although I do teach life science, these experiments will definitely still be appropriate as they target the scientific inquiry standards...thank you all so very much again not just for your ideas but even more for your willingness to share them!!

Nahomy Rojas Nahomy Rojas 2670 Points

Hi Loren, Thank you so much for posting the GEMS Alien Juice Bar link for the kids to learn about pH. I tried the activity myself and it was amazing to find out that coffee was acidic! I think that Challenge One will definitely be an eye opener for the kids when they see that most of the things that they drink are acidic! Challenge Three was also great in involving the pH scale. Both challenges involve different cues to look for whether it is the change in color of the liquid or the number in pH. Challenge 2 was great in that the students have to remember which substances were acidic or basic. I had a concern about the appropriateness of Challenge 2 though because it says that if you serve a drink wrong a second time to an alien it kills them and the graph on the side had a label for “Dead Aliens.” Did your class complete Challenge 2 and did any parents complain about this activity?

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

Loren There is a nice list of pH's pf various household items here http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Chem_AcidsBasespHScale.shtml

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

Loren There is a nice list of pH's pf various household items here http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Chem_AcidsBasespHScale.shtml

Roxanne Kenui Roxanne Kenui 910 Points

Thank you Jennifer for posting Stephanie's request for "more ideas" from the general science listserve. The responses are wonderful with so many useful ideas and links. I'm like a kid in a candy store, so much to choose from, I don't know where to start =)

Jennifer M Tanko Jennifer M Tanko 2190 Points

One very (very) simple thing you can do to show structure is dissolve salt into water and let it sit for a few weeks. When the salt crystallizes, it takes on that square-ish shape that the students may not be expecting. That'd be a nice thing to have evaporating while covering other concepts in the chemistry kitchen.

Opt_out Opt_out Tara Soleta 1560 Points

Hi all, I really enjoyed reading your kitchen chemistry ideas! Living on an island and having access to fresh fish, I thought of a great way to engage my students in teaching a chemical reactions lesson. Ceviche is a popular seafood dish on the coastal regions of the Americas. Raw fish is marinated in citrus juices, which cook the fish without heat. A basic explanation of tis concept is that the acids in the lemons burn the fish to cook. The scientific reasoning is that the citric acids causes proteins in the seafood to become denatured, this pickles/cooks the fish without heat. When heat is applied, the bonds holding fibers in place begin to relax (denaturing) and then the protein fibers straighten out and link (coagulated). Then the fish is cooked. Lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges all contain the acids to complete this same process without heat. An important fact to be aware of is that making ceviche without heat does NOT kill parasites that may be in the raw fish. To be cautious, you could freeze the fish before making this dish. My students are now able to share this kitchen lesson with their families and explain how the process happens!

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67945 Points

Wow, it's been a while since I have visited this thread, and I am thrilled that so many of you have contributed. So many great resources and new ideas! Many of the students in my summer school science class (many of them middle school age girls) asked for a new theme for hands-on science, and I could see developing a new curriculum focusing on the science of food. The kids really seemed tuned in to the idea also - perhaps a way to get more kids interested in science. Thanks to all.

Jacqueline Beaupre Jacqueline Beaupre 25 Points

I got some ideas from MIT's OpenCourseWare Kitchen Chemistry class: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/special-programs/sp-287-kitchen-chemistry-spring-2009/ http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/chemistry/5-s16-advanced-kitchen-chemistry-spring-2002/

Nahomy Rojas Nahomy Rojas 2670 Points

PBS kids website has a really great virtual kitchen game as well as an inquiry based experiment that kids can perform at home (or in the classroom if you'd like) http://pbskids.org/zoom/games/kitchenchemistry/virtual-start.html The experiment gives a list of materials and then the student gets to choose how to approach the experiment and use the materials given. They can then submit it online for a prize!

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

Sometime ago I signed up for the RCS newletter. I am so glad I did as they send me links to so many great resources like this page on kitchen chemistry http://www.rsc.org/learn-chemistry/resource/listing?searchtext=heston&utm_content=education-standard&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mkt-rab-ed14017

Naomi Beverly Naomi Beverly 19130 Points

Jennifer-- I have done something similar but with preschool children. Many of my ideas would be far too elementary for you, but I hope your kids love it as much as mine did. All the best! Naomi Beverly

Brittney Booker Brittney Booker 353 Points

I so love the idea of getting kids in the kitchen and keeping them learning at the same time. When I was younger, I always loved being in the kitchen and helping in whatever way I could. These ideas are great to keep kids learning outside of school and keep them interested in all aspects of science. Thanks for sharing!

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