Seven weeks from today, my new book “Kitchen Science Lab for Kids: Edible Edition” hits shelves everywhere books are sold, and there are some great pre-order sales going on now! Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, Edible Edition gives you 52 delicious ideas for exploring food science in your own kitchen by making everything from healthy homemade snacks to scrumptious main dishes and mind-boggling desserts.
Here’s a sneak peek into the book….
When you step into your kitchen to cook or bake, you put science to work. Physics and chemistry come into play each time you simmer, steam, bake, freeze, boil, puree, saute, or ferment food.
Knowing something about the physics, biology, and chemistry of food will give you the basic tools to be the best chef you can be. The rest is up to you!
Homemade pop rocks aren’t as fizzy as the ones you buy at the store, but they’re mighty tasty! Citric acid combines with baking soda to make carbon dioxide gas bubbles that get trapped in the candy. Adding extra citric acid and baking soda to the surface of the candy gives some extra fizz when you put them in your mouth. Trick your friends by adding a flavor that doesn’t match the color!
Warning: Ages 8 and up only. Extremely hot candy syrup. Adult supervision required.
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup corn syrup
a few drops of food coloring
1 tsp flavoring, like orange or cherry
1/4 cup citric acid + 1 tsp to sprinkle on in final step
1 tsp baking soda plus some to sprinkle on the candy
Step 1. Coat a the bottom of an inverted baking sheet with cornstarch.
Step 2. Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water, stirring until it reaches 300 degrees F.
Step 3. Remove the hot, melted candy from heat. Stir in food coloring, flavoring, 1/4 cup citric acid and 1 tsp baking soda.
Step 4. Very carefully, pour the mixture onto the baking sheet. Do not touch!!! Sprinkle 1 tsp. citric acid evenly over the surface of the candy.
Step 5. Let the mixture cool for at least 30 minutes and the break it into small pieces. Put some of the fragments in a plastic zip lock bag and use a hammer or rolling pin to crush them into tiny pieces or powder.
Step 6. Sprinkle on a little more baking soda and shake up in the bag.
Step 7. Enjoy the leprechaun pop rocks!
You can dye a rainbow of streaks in your hair using Kool-Aid drink mix. Practice on yarn first to perfect your technique!
Sheep’s wool and human hair are both made up of proteins called keratins, which can be dyed using chemical mixtures called acid dyes. These dyes are used to dye wool and alpaca, and some of the non-toxic ones can be used to dye human hair. Despite their name, they don’t actually contain acids. Instead, they require mild acid, such as citric acid or vinegar to be present in order for them to attach to proteins.
Kool-Aid drink mixes contain acid dyes that are perfect for dying keratin, and the color will wash away in a few washes. The mixes usually contain citric acid, but it helps to add vinegar as well to create an acidic solution. Colors will be most visible on lighter-toned hair or hair that has been chemically lightened, but you can dye dark hair too, by using more Kool-Aid mix.
Remember, Kool-Aid stains skin, fabric and other surfaces!
To dye yarn you’ll need:
100% wool yarn (white or cream, not cotton or synthetic fiber)
Kool-Aid drink mixes (powdered or liquid concentrate)
- Cut yarn into desired length and tie into bundles.
2. Soak yarn in warm water for 30 minutes.
3. In small containers, add enough vinegar to cover yarn and enough Kool-Aid to create intense colors.
4. After 30 minutes, put the wet yarn in the vinegar.
5. Soak for 30 minutes to overnight.
6. Remove yarn from dye, rinse well with cold water and hang to dry.
7. To make multi-colored yarn, soak yarn in vinegar and then squirt dye directly onto yarn. Let sit, rinse out and dry.
To dye streaks or the tips of your hair, shampoo and dry your hair. Skip the conditioner and put on an old shirt that can be stained.
Add the desired shade of Kool-Aid to vinegar in a bowl and soak the portions of your hair that you want dyed in the Kool-Aid mix for half an hour or so.
Rinse ends several times and dry. Remember that if your hair gets wet, it may transfer color to your clothes!
Most clear hard candy has what scientists call a glass structure. It’s a disorganized jumble of three kinds of sugar: glucose, fructose and sucrose, which can’t assemble into organized crystals, so it remains transparent when you melt it and allow it to re-harden.
To make stained glass for our gingerbread house windows, I adapted the crushed stained glass candy project from my book “STEAM Lab for Kids.” The challenge was figuring out how to create perfect rectangles. After some trial and error, I discovered that scoring the candy when it was still warm and soft created weak points, which allowed me to snap the candy into clean shapes once it had hardened.
-Jolly Ranchers, Life Savers or another clear, hard candy
-a baking sheet (spray or grease the baking sheet, if not using a silicon liner)
-a silicon liner for the baking sheet, if you have one
-a metal spatula or dough scraper
Safety tip: Adult supervision recommended. Hot, melted candy can cause burns. Don’t touch it until it has cooled.
What to do:
- Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
- Unwrap the candy and arrange the pieces on a baking sheet so that they’re close together, but not touching.
- Bake the candy for 7 to 8 minutes, or until it has melted.
- Remove the candy from the oven. Tilt the baking sheet, if needed, to fill gaps.
- Use the spatula to score (make lines in) the candy, creating whatever shapes/sizes you need.
- When the candy has cooled, snap it carefully along the lines you made. (See photo at the top of this post.)
- Eat your creations, or use them to decorate some edible architecture.
- Try crushing the candy before you melt it for different visual effects. What else could you try?
Eggs and sugar have great chemistry. Mix them together to create these sweet, crunch Halloween treats with a recipe from my upcoming book “Kitchen Science Lab for Kids: Edible Edition.“
They’ll take a few hours to bake, so plan ahead for this fun, edible science project.
Meringues are simply egg whites whipped into sugary foams. As you whip air into the mix, glue-like egg white proteins stick to the bubbles, stabilizing them to form a thick foam. The sugar you add combines with water from the eggs to form a sweet syrup.
When you bake meringue at a low temperature for a long period of time, the sugar and protein are transformed from an elastic goo to a glassy state, creating a crunch mouthful of bubbles.
Hard meringues are made using ¼ cup sugar per egg white, with a pinch of cream of tartar. Don’t skip the cream of tartar (an acid.) It helps stabilize the egg whites in the meringue.
To make Halloween Meringues, you’ll need:
3 egg whites from extra large eggs
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
¾ cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp Vanilla
Food coloring (gel works best)
Sprinkles or dusting sugar (optional)
Stand mixer or hand mixer
2 baking sheets
Pastry bags or large plastic zipper bags with the corners cut off
Round piping tips for pastry bag, if you have them
1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees F.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Beat three egg whites on medium until they start to foam.
4. Add 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar and continue to beat the egg whites, increasing the speed to high.
5. When the foam gets thicker enough to form soft peaks, add 3/4 cup sugar, a tablespoon or so at a time as you beat the eggs. Add vanilla.
6. Continue beating the mixture until stiff, glossy peaks with rounded tips form. Don’t over-beat the meringue.
7. Add a round tip to the pastry or plastic bag. Fill the bag with the meringue you made.
8.Use the bag and tip to pipe half of the meringue into blobs. You can color it with food coloring before piping it, if you wish.
9. Make some colorful streaks on the meringues by using a toothpick to smear food coloring on the inside of the pastry tip before putting it in the bag and piping the meringue. A small tip can be used to create eyes for the blobs, snakes and worms, or you can use sprinkles and dusting sugar to decorate.
10. Bake the meringues for 1-2 hours, until they feel dry and let them cool.
Take your summer food game up a notch using… science! Sorbet recipe below. Vinaigrette recipe is in the post below this one.
Simple Freezer Strawberry Sorbet (adapted from Epicurious.com)
30 minutes hands-on prep time, 8 hours start to finish
*Parental supervision required for boiling sugar syrup
a shallow dish
1 quart strawberries
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup orange juice
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
What to do:
- Make a sugar syrup by bringing 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water to a boil in a heavy sauce pan. Boil for 5 minutes.
- Puree strawberries in a blender or food processor until smooth.
- Add strawberries, lemon juice and orange juice to the sugar syrup.
- Pour mixture into a shallow dish and cool for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
- Put the chilled sorbet mix in the freezer for 6 hours, stirring every hour.
- Enjoy your sorbet!
The Science Behind the Fun:
In sorbet, sugar acts as an antifreeze agent, physically getting in the way of ice crystal formation to keep crystals small, so that you don’t end up with one big chunk of ice. Pre-chilling the mixture before freezing it allows it to freeze faster, which also encourages smaller crystals to form.
“When I wasn’t at school, I was experimenting at home, and became a bit of a Mad Scientist. I did hours of research on mayonnaise, for instance, and although no one seemed to care about it, I thought it was utterly fascinating. When the weather turned cold, the mayo suddenly became a terrible struggle, because the emulsion kept separating, and it wouldn’t behave when there was a change in the olive oil or the room temperature. I finally got the upper hand by going back to the beginning of the process, studying each step scientifically, and writing it all down. By the end of my research, I believe, I had written more on the subject of mayonnaise than anyone in history. I made so much mayonnaise that Paul and I could hardly bear to eat it anymore, and I took to dumping my test batches down the toilet. What a shame. But in this way I had finally discovered a foolproof recipe, which was a glory.” Julia Child, from My Life in France
Julia’s secret for fool-proof mayo? Beat the mixture over a bowl of hot water to get the oil and eggs to form an emulsion, which is a mixture of two thing which are normally immiscible, like water and oil. In an emulsion, a bunch of one type of molecule will actually surround individuals or small groups of the other type of molecule (think ring-around the rosy with one or two people in the middle who would rather not be there.)
When you’re trying to make an emulsion, it also helps to add a mediator called a surfactant to get between and interact with the immiscible molecules to stabilize the mixture. In a vinaigrette prepared using oil, mustard and vinegar, the proteins in the mustard act as surfactants.
To make delicious vinaigrette:
- Using a fork or wire whisk, mix together: 1 Tbsp. vinegar and 1 Tbsp. mustard.
- Add 3 Tbsp. oil (olive, vegetable or your favorite), drop-by-drop, whisking until you see an emulsion form! You can tell when an emulsion begins to form, because the mixture will start to look lighter-colored and thicker as the molecules are rearranged and reflect light differently!
Try some variations on these kitchen experiments. Does it work better to use a cold egg, room temperature egg, or warm egg? What happens if you try to make mayo by setting your mixing bowl in a bowl of ICE water? Do you get an emulsion?
When whipping up mayonnaise, adding a little water to the eggs before adding the oil helps make some of the proteins in the eggs more available to act as surfactants. Of course, adding a little mustard helps too and tastes great!
Here’s the New York Times recipe we used to make mayonnaise:
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cold water
- 3/4 cup neutral oil such as safflower or canola
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, mustard, salt and 1 teaspoon cold water until frothy. Whisking constantly, slowly dribble in the oil until mayonnaise is thick and oil is incorporated. When the mayonnaise emulsifies and starts to thicken, you can add the oil in a thin stream, instead of drop by drop.
As Julia Child would say, “Bon Appetit!”
It’s hard to believe that my new book “STEAM Lab for Kids” is already in the Amazon book store! I studied both art and science in college, so this one was SO much fun to write!
Last summer, my publisher made a few videos of projects from the book for me to share with you. Here’s the first one, which features some sugar science!
Crying over broken candy canes? Cry no more. Make art!
My publisher recently sent me a copy of “Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science,” by Andrew Schloss. There are tons of fun experiments in the book, but Candy Cane Origami seemed like a perfect one to try during the holidays.
*Melted candy can get dangerously hot, so parental supervision is required!
-candy canes (broken or whole), wrappers removed
-heavy-duty aluminum foil
-a cookie sheet
-a wire cooling rack
What to do:
- Preheat oven to 250F.
- Cover cookie sheet with foil
- Place candy canes on foil, not touching each other
- Bake candy canes for around 10 minutes and have an adult check them. They should be stretchy, but not too hot to touch.
- When the candy canes are ready, bend, fold, twist and pull them into cool shapes. Try pulling one long and wrapping it around a chopstick to make a spiral. What else could you try?
- If the candy gets to brittle to work with, put it back in the oven for a few minutes to make it soft again.
The science behind the fun:
If you looks at the ingredients of candy canes, they’re usually made of table sugar (sucrose), corn syrup, flavoring, and food coloring. Glucose and fructose are sweet-tasting molecules that stick together to make up most of the sugars we eat, like table sugar (sucrose) and corn syrup. You can think of them as the building blocks of candy.
At room temperature, candy canes are hard and brittle, but adding heat changes the way the molecules behave. Both table sugar and corn syrup contain linked molecules of glucose and fructose, but corn syrup has much more fructose than glucose, and the fructose interferes with sugar crystal formation. According to Andrew Schloss, “the corn syrup has more fructose, which means the sugar crystals in the candy don’t fit tightly together. The crystals have space between them, which allows them to bend and move without cracking.”
Here’s a great article on the science of candy-making!
If you’re looking for holiday gifts for a science-loving kid, my books Kitchen Science Lab for Kids and Outdoor Science Lab for Kids include over 100 fun family-friendly experiments! They’re available wherever books are sold.
Gelatin is the substance that makes Jell-O jiggle. See what happens when food coloring molecules move, or DIFFUSE through Jell-O.
This creative science experiment that my kids and I invented lets you play with floatation physics by sprinkling glitter on melted gelatin, watch colorful dyes diffuse to create patterns and then use cookie cutters to punch out sticky window decorations. Water will evaporate from the gelatin, leaving you with paper-thin “stained glass” shapes.
-plain, unflavored gelatin from the grocery store or Target
–a drinking straw
*You can use the recipe below for two pans around 8×12 inches, or use large, rimmed cookie sheets for your gelatin. For a single pan, cut the recipe in half.
Step 1. Add 6 packs of plain, unflavored gelatin (1 oz or 28 gm) to 4 cups of boiling water. Stir well until all the gelatin has dissolved and remove bubbles with a spoon.
Step 2. Allow gelatin to cool to a kid-safe temperature. Pour the liquid gelatin into two large pans so it’s around 1-1.5 cm deep. It doesn’t have to be exact.
Step 5. In the pan with no glitter, use a straw to create holes in the gelatin, a few cm apart, scattered across the surface. It works best to poke a straw straight into the gelatin, but not all the way to the bottom. Spin the straw and remove it. Then, use a toothpick or skewer to pull out the gelatin plug you’ve created. This will leave a perfect hole for the food coloring. Very young children may need help.
Step 6. Add a drop of food coloring to each hole in the gelatin.
Step 7. Let the gelatin pans sit for 24 hours. Every so often, use a ruler to measure the circle of food coloring molecules as they diffuse (move) into the gelatin around them (read about diffusion at the bottom of this post.) How many cm per hour is the color diffusing? Do some colors diffuse faster than others? If you put one pan in the refrigerator and an identical one at room temperature, does the food coloring diffuse at the same rate?
Step 8. When the food coloring has made colorful circles in the gelatin, use cookie cutters to cut shapes from both pans of gelatin (glitter and food coloring), carefully remove them from the pan with a spatula or your fingers, and use them to decorate a window. (Ask a parent first, since some glitter may find its way to the floor!) Don’t get frustrated if they break, since you can stick them back together on the window.
Step 9. Observe your window jellies each day to see what happens when the water evaporates from the gelatin.
When they’re dry, peel them off the window. Are they thinner than when you started? Why? Can you re-hydrate them by soaking the dried shapes in water?
The Science Behind the Fun:
Imagine half a box filled with red balls and the other half filled with yellow ones. If you set the box on something that vibrates, the balls will move around randomly, until the red and yellow balls are evenly mixed up.
Scientists call this process, when molecules move from areas of high concentration, where there are lots of other similar molecules, to areas of low concentration, where there are fewer similar molecules DIFFUSION. When the molecules are evenly spread throughout the space, it is called EQUILIBRIUM.
Lots of things can affect how fast molecules diffuse, including temperature. When molecules are heated up, they vibrate faster and move around faster, which helps them reach equilibrium more quickly than they would if it were cold. Diffusion takes place in gases like air, liquids like water, and even solids (semiconductors for computers are made by diffusing elements into one another.)
Think about the way pollutants move from one place to another through air, water and even soil. Or consider how bacteria are able to take up the substances they need to thrive. Your body has to transfer oxygen, carbon dioxide and water by processes involving diffusion as well.
Why does glitter float on gelatin? An object’s density and it’s shape help determine its buoyancy, or whether it will float or sink. Density is an object’s mass (loosely defined as its weight) divided by its volume (how much space it takes up.) A famous scientist named Archimedes discovered that any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid. Boats have to be designed in shapes that will displace, or push, at least as much water as they weigh in order to float.
For example, a 100 pound block of metal won’t move much water out of the way, and sinks fast since it’s denser than water. However , a 100 pound block of metal reshaped into a boat pushes more water out of the way and will float if you design it well!
What is the shape of your glitter? Does it float or sink in the gelatin?
Here’s a video I made for KidScience app that demonstrates how to make window gellies
Credit: My 11 YO daughter came up with the brilliant idea to stick this experiment on windows. I was just going to dry out the gelatin shapes to make ornaments. Kids are often way more creative than adults!