Science, Cooking, and Summer

Posted by Mary Ann Wojton | 06/21/2018 | Education, Parenting
Mary Ann Wojton and a student stir the contents of a steaming pot while wearing gloves and goggles.

Want to explore science with your blind or sighted child this summer? Consider cooking together.

Let's take an example like browning apples. What can we learn?

  • We can learn about, or review, the scientific concepts of physical and chemical change.
  • We can support the development of science process skills like smelling, tasting, measuring, and investigating.
  • We can practice life skills including rinsing apples, peeling off the skin with a ceramic peeler, using an apple corer and paring knife to cut apples into pieces, and stirring the apples, butter, and spices in a pan.

Step One: Gather Supplies

Begin by gathering up your supplies. You will need some apples, butter, spices, a ceramic peeler, an apple slicer/corer, a paring knife, a frying pan, and hot mitts. You will also need a hot plate or stove.

But Wait! Science Break!

Before we go further, let's explore the science. By cutting the apple, we physically change the apple. A physical change in chemistry affects the form of a substance (e.g., shape, state of matter) but not its chemical composition. In this case, cutting the apple changes its shape, but if you put the pieces back together, it's still the same apple. However, when you brown the apple, you are producing a chemical change. A chemical change involves the rearrangement of atoms in one or more substances resulting in a change in its chemical properties or composition.

More precisely, when you brown apples you are actually causing a chemical reaction known as the Maillard, or browning, reaction. The Maillard reaction creates brown pigments in cooked food by rearranging amino acids and certain simple sugars, which then arrange themselves in rings that reflect light in such a way as to give the food a brown color.

Step Two: Prepare the Apples

We begin by changing the apple physically. You can do this by using the ceramic peeler to peel the skin from the apple. Then slice the apple into chunks with the apple slicer/corer and use the paring knife to slice the apple chunks into thinner pieces. Along the way, observe (a science process skill) the apples by feeling, smelling, and tasting. In order to compare the raw apple with a cooked apple, put aside a piece of apple now.

Step Three: Brown the Apples

Measure two tablespoons of butter and place in the frying pan. When we did this during NFB Youth Slam, a program of the National Center for Blind Youth in Science, we placed the frying pan on a hot plate, but you could also use your stove. After a moment, sprinkle the pan with drops of water and listen for the sound of a sizzle. When the water sizzles, it's hot enough to add the prepared apple pieces.

But Wait! Another Science Break!

High-temperature cooking speeds up the Maillard reaction because heat both increases the rate of chemical reactions and accelerates the evaporation of water.

Step Three: Brown the Apples, cont.

Here's where you can add an element of scientific inquiry. What kind and how much seasoning do you like? Experiment with different spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Measure (another science process skill) your spices and sprinkle them on the apples. Hold the handle of the pan with one hand and stir, or flip, the apples with the other. Move the apples around the pan until they feel soft. As the apple cooks, the concentration of sugars and amino acids increases, providing the lovely scent of apples in the air.

Step Four: Eat and Learn

Once the apples are soft, take the pan off the burner, turn off the stove, and spoon them into a bowl. Now bring out the raw apple you saved. How is the browned apple different from the raw apple? Do they feel, smell, or taste the same or different?

Exploring science can be fun and tasty! Never stop learning.


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