STEAM WEEK: Food Science

All cooking and eating uses STEAM. Science makes liquids boil, turns batter into cakes, and sugar into caramels. Technology and engineering preserves food in cans and jars to eat safely later, freeze dries food for astronauts, and makes fake meat taste like, well, meat. Food preparation, presentation, and packaging use art and design principles. And mathematics makes it possible to cook pancakes for 1000 people or for 1 person.

The following demonstrations and experiments are meant to encourage having fun with your food and thinking about what you eat. You can be a scientist, engineer, artist, or mathematician in the kitchen!

As with all food handling, food preparation, and all science labs, please use safety and caution. Not all experiments and demos are for all ages. If you have allergies, please do not handle or consume food without a grown up’s permission. Do not use kitchen equipment without a grown up’s permission. Be safe and wash your hands before and after handling food and eating.

Make a Spark in the Dark!

You will need:

  • Wint O Green flavor Life Savers® candy
  • a dark room with no windows or light source, such as a small bathroom or closet
  • a mirror or a friend

Go into the dark room. Put the candy in your mouth. Bite down on it. Open your mouth and look in the mirror while you bite down or chew. Or show your friend while you bite down or chew. What do you see?

*You can use pliers, with a grown up’s permission if you don’t want to chew with your mouth open!

Ideas for more STEAM exploration:

  • Try this with other flavors of Life Savers® hard candy.
  • Try this with other brands of wintergreen flavored mints, such as Altoids®.
  • Does it work with other candies or flavors? Why do you think it does or it doesn’t?

Wondering how this works? Click here for the spoiler.

Does it Sink or Float?

Did you know that across the United States there are different names for the same thing? Take the fizzy, sweet drinks in a can. Depending on where you are from, you will call them pop, soda, tonic, coke, or cocola. Since most people around Westlake call it pop, so will we.

You will need:

  • two cans of pop, one diet and one regular sweetened, any brand or flavor
  • a vessel with water, such as a plugged sink or a bucket

Before you test the cans, make a prediction, will they both float, both sink, or will one float while the other sinks? Put one can in at a time and observe what happens.

Ideas for more STEAM exploration:

  • Try this with pop in bottles.
  • Try this with carbonated water in a can.
  • Try this with other beverages, such as iced tea, juice, or water.
  • What do the other beverages do in water? Why do you think they float or sink?

Wondering how this works? Click here for the spoiler.

Brown All Around, or Not?

You will need:

  • an apple, any variety
  • a knife
  • water
  • a vitamin C tablet, crushed and diluted in a little water
  • lemon juice
  • vegetable oil, such as canola or olive oil
  • salt

With supervision, carefully cut the apple in 6 slices. You need six for the experiment. Keep the slices apart so they don’t touch. Coat the cut sides of one slice with plain water. Coat the cut sides of one slice with the vitamin C solution. Coat the cut sides of one slice with the lemon juice. Coat the cut sides of one slice with the oil. Coat the cut sides of one slice with the salt. Keep one slice plain, with nothing on the cut sides. Wait for a day or two. Observe what happens to each slice. Do they turn brown? Do they turn brown at the same time? Do any stay white? Why do you think this happens?

Note: While the apple slices are not dangerous to eat, they probably don’t taste very good. Throw them away or compost them.

Ideas for more STEAM exploration:

  • Try this with another fruit or vegetable that browns easily, such as a banana or an avocado.
  • Try other coatings or solutions, such as pop, maple syrup, milk or vinegar.
  • Taste a slice of fruit or apple left out to brown. Does it taste normal or different? [Only do this with permission, of course.]
  • What happened? Why do you think certain fruits or veggies brown faster than others? Why do we stop browning? For taste, or for appearance, or both?

Wondering how this works? Click here for the spoiler.

Eggs-cellent Experiments

Eggs are pretty ordinary things. Or are they? Here are some ways to eggs-plore the incredible egg.

Note: Do not do any experiments with foods you may be allergic to. Eating raw eggs is linked to an increased risk of foodborne illness. Do not consume raw, un-pasteurized eggs if you are immunocompromised.

Emulsification Education

Mix some oil and water vigorously. Use a fork or a whisk. Wait for 5 minutes. What happens? Can oil and water ever mix?

  • Mix the oil and water, as you did above.
  • Crack an egg in the oil and water mixture.
  • Mix vigorously.
  • Observe. Does the oil and water separate as fast as it did before?

Practical STEAM Applications

  • Mayonnaise is a popular condiment. It is an emulsion of oil, eggs, and vinegar plus some seasonings. In this science project, you can make mayonnaise in a jar! Click here for the directions.
  • If you have made a cake from a box mix, you know that you need to combine the mix with oil, water, and an egg. Does the egg work to emulsify the oil and water in the cake mix the same way it does with mayonnaise? What happens if you bake a cake or brownie mix and leave the egg out?
  • Maybe you want to bake a cake for someone who is allergic to eggs. Or maybe you want to make a cake and you are out of eggs. What can you do? During the Great Depression, when people were out of eggs, they found good substitutes. Click here to read about them.

Outta Sight (Egg) Whites

Eggs are yellow (yolk) and white (albumen). The egg white is protein and water and can do some pretty amazing things, if you add some air, that is.

You will need:

  • 2 eggs
  • wire whisk or electric mixer
  • metal or glass bowl for mixer, exceptionally clean and dry

Procedure:

  • Wash your hands. Crack two eggs in half over a bowl, carefully. Move the egg contents back and forth between the shell halves, carefully, allowing only the egg white to go out into the bowl. You can discard the yolks or save them for another recipe or experiment. You will not need the egg yolks for this experiment, only the whites. Try not to touch the egg whites with your fingers or allow any yolk to get in with them.
  • Using a wire whisk rapidly stir the egg whites very quickly. In a few minutes, the mixture looks less like a wet egg white and more like a soft white foam. You may want to use an electric mixer instead of whisking by hand or trade off whisking with a friend or grown up.

Ideas for more STEAM eggsploration:

  • What happens if you whisk the egg white for a long time?
  • What happens if the egg whites are cold versus room temperature?
  • What happens if you get a little bit of yolk in the egg whites?
  • Was it easy to separate the white from the yolk? There are contraptions called Egg Separators designed to help with that process. Can you design and build a better egg separator? How would you do it?

Practical STEAM Applications

  • Beaten egg whites are used in many recipes, from Angel Food Cakes, Baked Alaska, Waffles, and more.
  • Here is a fun recipe for Cloud Eggs
  • Meringue is a sweet egg white and sugar mixture used to top pies and make lots of desserts. This STEAM-friendly Meringue Tower recipe combines the science of whisking egg whites with the engineering of building the tallest tower. Plus, you can eat it!

Wondering how egg science works? Click here for the spoiler. Or here. Or here.

Natalie Bota

Miss Natalie is the Special Needs Librarian at Westlake Porter Public Library. She enjoys working with patrons of all ages and can usually be found in the Youth Services Department or the Reading Garden. She enjoys reading picture books and poetry, baseball, writing, cooking, and travel. She loves spending time with her pets, family, and friends.