Edible Experiments and Other Mad Scientist Recipes
- Tamara Christine Van Hooser TOS Magazine Contributor
- 2013 2 Aug
“Who—me? Teach science? You must be joking! I barely passed science when I was in school. I’m certainly not qualified to teach it now!” The prospect of teaching science brings to mind names such as Einstein, Newton, and Bernoulli, along with the complex equations and scientific theories they espouse. Thus, it is easy for a homeschool parent with no science degree to view science as a daunting challenge and to shy away from teaching science. It’s easy to become even more discouraged by the price tags found on numerous materials required for science experiments, especially if you have a limited budget.
The truth is that science is all around us, and it takes no special training, knowledge, or extra expense to introduce your elementary-aged children to basic scientific principles right in your very own kitchen with common household ingredients. As The Magic Schoolbus’s Miss Frizzle likes to say, the key to making science come alive for kids is to “take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” Conducting science in your kitchen lab is an excellent vehicle for tying in cross-curricular skills such as measurement, nutrition, responsibility, and following directions, as well as kitchen safety and the scientific process. Select recipe experiments that end in an edible treat to motivate your kids’ scientific curiosity, and reward the junior mad scientists for a project well done.
Homemade Root Beer
Combining root beer and science will be an instant hit for all root beer lovers.1 While many recipes call for ingredients that the average family does not have handy, a simple recipe of brewer’s yeast, root beer extract, sugar, and warm water is enough to teach kids about fermentation and carbonation.
Mix ¼ teaspoon yeast in a cup of warm water. Dissolve 1 pound of sugar in ½ gallon of water heated to 180 degrees F. Stir in 4 to 6 teaspoons of root beer extract and let cool.
Mix in the yeast solution and carefully pour the mixture into a plastic gallon-sized jug. Pour in enough warm water to fill the jug, leaving 2 inches empty at the top, and twist the lids on securely. Keep the bottles at room temperature for three to four days, and then refrigerate for an additional four to seven days.
For young children, a quick version of this experiment substitutes dry ice for yeast. Simply place the dry ice in the root beer liquid in an airtight container, such as a portable cooler. It should be carbonated and ready to drink in one to four hours. Add ice cream for a root beer float celebration, or hold a taste test to compare commercial brands to your homemade version.
Ziplock Ice Cream
For a completely scientific treat, make your own ice cream to go with your homemade root beer.2 In addition to being a tasty project, making ice cream is a good way to learn about freezing, melting, and changing states of matter. In a quart-size ziplock bag, mix ½ cup milk, ½ cup heavy cream, ¼ cup sugar, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla. Seal the bag securely and place it within a 1-gallon size ziplock bag filled with 2 cups of ice and ¾ cup rock salt.
Seal the gallon bag and let the child squeeze and shake the bag vigorously until the mixture thickens like ice cream. Spoon the ice cream into your float or a bowl, and enjoy your tasty treat. Optionally you may substitute other flavors for vanilla, such as adding mashed berries, chocolate syrup, peppermint extract, or food coloring for a colorful snack.
Kids love pizza, so tell them they get to make pizza for science and they’ll want to repeat the experiment over and over again.3 Most people are familiar with baking a pizza in the oven, but can you cook one on the stovetop or over a barbecue or campfire? This experiment will answer that question and take care of lunch or dinner for the day.
Using frozen pizzas, try cooking them in a dry skillet and a lightly oiled skillet. Do you get better crust results from a covered or uncovered skillet? Light up the barbecue and bake your pizza on the grill with and without foil underneath. Build a campfire and wrap the pizza in tin foil. Place it in the hot coals and see how long it takes to cook.
Which method produces the crispiest crust? Experiment with different cooking methods until you find the one that works best.
Young children can learn about the art and science of mixing colors with an edible rainbow cupcake color wheel craft.4 Mix up a batch of your child’s favorite cake mix and bake some cupcakes.
Put out six small dishes of white frosting and food coloring. Stir colors into each cup, making red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple, letting your kids discover that red and blue make purple, red and yellow make orange, and yellow and blue make green. Frost each cupcake in a single color and demonstrate how to place them in a ring to make a color wheel that mimics the order of colors in a rainbow.
Edible Cell Model
Learning the parts of a cell can have a numbing effect on kids who do not like memorizing or are intimidated by all the long scientific names, but an edible model turns it into a fun project.5 Cell models can be made out of Jello, cake, pie, or any other treat that appeals to your child. Each part of the cell is represented by a different type of candy, so ask your child to create a key that tells which candy stands for which cell part. It should include the cytoplasm, Golgi bodies, lysosomes, mitochondria, nuclear membrane, nucleolus, nucleus, ribosomes, rough and smooth endoplasmic reticulum, and vacuole.
Place each part in its correct location on the body of the cell. Take pictures or make a video of your child explaining the project, and...enjoy the dessert!
Rice Krispy Skin
In the same vein as the cell model, mix up a batch of rice krispy treat mix to mold a model of the skin.6 Use licorice vines or strips of fruit leather in different colors to represent the veins, arteries, sweat glands, and nerves. Paint a strip of food coloring or frosting along the top to represent the epidermis. Rows of round chocolates represent hair. Make a photographic record of the masterpiece for posterity’s sake before devouring.
Plant Part Salad
So many plants are edible or have edible parts that turning the study of plant parts into a kitchen science project is a natural fit.7 Have your child select at least one salad ingredient from each part of the plant: leaves, flower, fruit, root, stem, and seed. Mix it all together and top with your favorite dressing, or make your own dressing. Include the salad on the dinner menu, and let your child bask in the rave reviews of her culinary talents.
A taste test experiment is a yummy way for kids to explore what makes a good (fill in the blank).8 Select a product that is available in several brands or varieties, for example, strawberries, apples, chocolate chip cookies, or potato chips. Make a list of the criteria that each sample will be graded on, such as sweetness, tartness, texture, crunchiness, or color, as well as how it will be graded.
Dole out the samples without letting the children know which is which, to avoid predetermined bias. Have them grade each sample on the criteria chosen. When all tests are done, reveal which brand or variety corresponds to each test and determine each child’s favorite in a blind taste test.
Growing crystals is a classic earth science project, but if a kit and chemicals with unpronounceable scientific names are not within your budget, try using sugar and water or maple syrup to create your edible crystals.9
Heat sugar and water in a 3:1 ratio and stir until sugar is dissolved completely. Add any coloring or flavor that suits your taste, let the mixture cool in the refrigerator, and then pour it into a clean, clear jar.
Coat a long piece of string with the sugar liquid and suspend over the jar opening so that it hangs to the bottom of the jar. Store the jar where it won’t be disturbed, and over the next several days watch the crystals form on the string.
Maple syrup crystals grow even more quickly. Heat the pure maple syrup until it thickens, and then pour it over a bed of ice or a chilled plate to see crystals form in minutes. When the candy crystals have grown large enough to suit your child, let him try his homemade candy.
If you have ever been a kid, you know that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are an indispensable feature of childhood. What you may not know is that if you can put aside your mom’s admonitions for a moment and let your kids play with their food, you can turn PB and J into a science lesson about the layers of the earth’s crust.10
Lay out bread, peanut butter, jelly, and honey, and give each child a blunt dinner knife or plastic knife. The bottom layer of bread represents the rock of the inner solid core. Spread with honey, which represents the outer liquid core, and add a second layer of bread to represent the lower mantle. Spread a layer of peanut butter to represent the asthenosphere, spread jelly to represent the upper mantle, and the top bread layer will represent the earth’s crust.
You may also choose to cut the sandwich diagonally and push, pull, and slide the pieces to demonstrate divergent, transform, and convergent boundaries in plate movements. Once the science demonstration is over, lunch is on!
1. Homemade Root Beer. (June 30, 2012) Retrieved from All Recipes: allrecipes.com/recipe/homemade-root-beer/
Making Root Beer. (June 30, 2012) Retrieved from Learning Zone Express: www.learningzonexpress.com/Documents/Worksheets/3519_Food_Science_Worksheet.pdf.
2. Anne Marie Helmenstine, P. (June 30, 2012) Make Ice Cream in a Baggie. Retrieved from About.com Chemistry: chemistry.about.com/cs/howtos/a/aa020404a.htm.
3. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (June 30, 2012). Stove Top Frozen Pizza Science Experiment. Retrieved from About.com Chemistry: chemistry.about.com/od/foodscienceprojects/ss/Stove-Top-Frozen-Pizza-Science-Experiment_2.htm.
4. Lipoff, Sarah. (June 30, 2012). Edible Color Wheel. Retrieved from Education.com: www.education.com/activity/article/edible-color-wheel/?coliid=805.
5. Howard, Todd and Nick Hoffman. (June 30, 2012). The Incredible, Edible Cell. Retrieved from Access Excellence at the National Health Museum: www.accessexcellence.org/AE/ATG/data/released/0251-NickHoffman. Jello 3-D Animal Cell Craft. (June 30, 2012). Retrieved from Enchanted Learning: www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/animals/cell/jello.
6. Fun Biology Science Project for Kids—An edible skin model that is made with Rice Krispie Treats and candy. (June 30, 2012). Retrieved from Hub Pages: hteacher.hubpages.com/hub/Fun-Biology-Science-Project-for-Kids-An-edible-skin-model-that-is-made-with-Rice-Krispie-Treats-and-candy.
7. Van Hooser, Tessa. ((June 30, 2012). Tessa’s Plant Part Salad. Retrieved from All Recipes: allrecipes.com/personalrecipe/62739062/tessas-plant-part-salad/detail.aspx.
8. Bilgrami, Shaheen. (June 30, 2012). Test Your Tongue: Are Strawberries Sweet or Sour? Retrieved from Education.com: www.education.com/activity/article/fool-tongue-strawberries-sweet-sour/?coliid=801.
9. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (June 30, 2012). Maple Syrup Crystals. Retrieved from About.com Chemistry: chemistry.about.com/od/sugarcrystalsrockcandy/a/Maple-Syrup-Crystals.htm. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (June 30, 2012). Rock Candy—How to Make Rock Candy. Retrieved from About.com Chemistry: chemistry.about.com/od/foodcookingchemistry/a/rockcandy.htm.
10. “Peanut Butter and Jelly” Earth Layers. (June 30, 2012). Retrieved from Montana State University Dept. of Mathematical Sciences: www.math.montana.edu/~nmp/materials/ess/geosphere/inter/activities/application/index.html. Edible Geology. (June 30, 2012). Retrieved from Nevada Commission of Mineral Resources: minerals.state.nv.us/forms/educ/EdibleGeology.pdf.
Tamara lives in western Oregon with her husband, Christopher, and homeschools William and Tessa. She taught elementary grades in public school settings for seven years. When she is not teaching or writing, she enjoys reading and volunteering at church. She considers teaching her children to “love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves” as their most important educational goal. To connect with her, please visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/teachingisFUN.
Copyright, 2012. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine, October 2012. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: August 2, 2013