Did you know that every house has a built-in science lab? It’s called the kitchen, and it’s the perfect place to experiment with a wide variety of ingredients to showcase science in action. If you have kiddos ages four or older, use your kitchen to conduct regular food science experiments. In many cases, you get the best of all worlds. Not only do your youngsters get hands-on education, but they can often eat what they create, too!
Ready to get started? Pick from any of the following simple, fun and fantastic kitchen science experiments.
1. Pop Up Some Yummy Science
Popcorn makes an awesome pick-me-up treat. It also displays science in action. Every piece of popcorn, which is a special form of dried corn, has three layers. The outer hard layer is the pericap, the softer middle layer is the endosperm and the core is the germ. The endosperm contains an important secret: it has just a bit of moisture.
When a popcorn kernel comes in contact with enough heat, the endosperm’s small amount of water turns into steam. This forces open the pericap shell, allowing the fluffy, starch-filled endosperm to spill out. In fact, the “pop” is the endosperm making its way into your kitchen!
Beyond explaining the basic make-up of popcorn to your kids, you can try a few different food science experiments using popcorn:
- Compare the popping tendencies of three different popcorn brands. Make sure you try to pop the same number of kernels using the same method. How many kernels didn’t pop? Does each popcorn brand look different? If so, why does that happen?
- Pop the same brand of corn two ways. Air-popping in the microwave is a convenient way to avoid using butter when popping corn. You can also pop corn on the stove in a pot that’s lined with a layer of vegetable oil. Does the cooking method matter? How much time does each method take? Can you taste any unique characteristics between the finished popcorn?
Don’t be surprised if your kids start asking for this kitchen science experiment regularly, especially if they’re hungry from their after-school activities.
2. Rock Out in the Kitchen Laboratory
You may remember rock candy from when you were a kid. Because it’s crystalized sugar, rock candy makes a perfect introduction into topics like rock formation and how geodes are formed. You’ve likely seen geodes before — they’re large rocks with a central cavity that’s filled with usually colorful mineral formations. The minerals may present themselves as rocky, spiky or chunky.
Your goal is to whip up some geode candies so your kids can better understand the idea of crystallization. In a saucepan, combine one cup of water, three cups of white sugar, a couple drops of edible food dye and a drop or two of a food flavoring like peppermint or vanilla. Heat up the mixture until the sugar completely dissolves.
Take the mixture from the heat and let it cool a bit. Then, pour about a half-inch of mixture into foil muffin or cupcake liners placed in a cupcake pan. Cover everything loosely with plastic wrap and wait. Over a few days, crystals will form as the liquid evaporates and the sugars have nowhere to go. Once all the moisture is gone, use the sugar geodes to decorate cookies or eat them as-is.
To mix up this sweet experiment, try:
- Using different ratios of sugar to water. Which ratio produces the best candy?
- Allowing your geode rock candy to dry in different locations in the house. Does one spot seem to produce a better candy?
3. Try a Food Science Experiment to Lava…Er, Love
Kids always want to make kitchen volcanoes, but you might not be up for a complete lava explosion. Instead, teach them about chemical reactions on a smaller scale by making homemade bubbly drinks. You need a few limes, baking soda, sugar and water for this science experiment in the kitchen.
Put out a tall glass for each “scientist” in your kitchen. Squeeze the juice from a lime into each glass. Pour cold water into the glass and add a tablespoon of sugar. Stir the mixture.
At this point, you could drink up. However, your job is to find out what happens when an acid, which is lime juice, meets an alkaline, which is baking soda. So get ready and stir in a teaspoon of baking soda. Watch as the carbon dioxide reaction generates fizz. Then, quench your thirst with this bubbly concoction.
Want to add a twist to this citrus-filled science experiment? Try these tips:
- Use the juice from lemons or oranges as your acid. Does this make a difference?
- Try different amounts of baking soda. Will more matter? How is the taste affected?
Keep the Fun Going With Virtual Science Clubs
Love everything science? Want your children to get some real-world science experiences without leaving home? Learn more about our virtual science programs at Science Explorers.