Kitchen chemistry offers a hands-on alternative to learning chemistry. There are times when we have to think outside the textbook to meet our children where they learn. That is a strong advantage to homeschooling–customizing the education of our children to their strengths.
How do we turn kitchen chemistry into a serious science course?
I think that most homeschool parents find the thought of teaching the subject of chemistry very intimidating. I know I did. How was I going to confidently teach my child a subject that I, myself, had not had since high school? I definitely did not remember much from those days. I decided to approach teaching my son high school Chemistry in a totally different way. He was definitely not a book learner. He was one of those hands-on types of learners. At the time, I was in college, taking classes myself. I was working toward a degree in the Culinary Arts and was in my baking classes at the time. After participating in these classes, I think that the term Culinary Science is more appropriate.
During these classes, it occurred to me that I actually was competent to teach chemistry and teach it in a fun, memorable, and very hands-on way. Baking and cooking are like scientific experiments, combining chemical reactions of chemistry, the processes of biology and the laws of physics, and even mathematics. Most people probably would not equate baking and cooking with science, but the truth is, the kitchen chemistry found in baking and cooking can be used as a tool to teach specific concepts.
According to brittannica.com, this is the definition of Chemistry.
Chemistry, the science that deals with the properties, composition, and structure of substances (defined as elements and compounds), the transformations they undergo, and the energy that is released or absorbed during these processes.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 Jan. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/science/chemistry
Let’s look at the definition of the study of chemistry in simple terms. We see that chemistry is basically figuring out what particular items are and the result if we mixed them together in specific ways.
According to theculinarypro.com, culinary science is defined as the following.
Science is an important and constant element in the culinary process. Foods are scaled proportionately, and combined in a certain order, to achieve desired outcomes. Chemical reactions occur in cooking through manipulation or emulsification. The control of heat and cold maximizes food quality and safety. Understanding what happens in the cooking process, and using a disciplined approach in applying principles of culinary science, will lead to consistent and predictable results.
Culinary Science-The Culinary Pro, https://www.theculinarypro.com/culinary-science
When you’re cooking or baking, you’re indeed doing kitchen chemistry!
Each time you follow or modify a recipe (in baking, it is actually called a formula), you conduct kitchen chemistry experiments with acids and bases, emulsions and suspensions, gels, and foams. If you have ever cooked or baked, you know how to denature proteins and crystallize compounds. You know how to react enzymes with substrates and nurture desired microbial life while suppressing harmful bacteria and fungi. I know you are probably asking yourself what the heck is she talking about. Trust me; if you have baked a cake, you have done this.
If you cook or bake, you like or know something about kitchen chemistry.
In any baking recipe, every ingredient has a purpose. For example, in a cake, flour gives the structure, eggs bind the ingredients, baking powder and baking soda make it rise, fats like butter and oil make it less chewy, and sugar sweetens and keeps it moist.
Amazing! Right? We already have experience as scientists.
Kitchens are full of chemicals (ingredients) that react with each other to form new compounds, as well as tastes, smells, and textures. In fact, a kitchen is really one big chemistry lab. And unlike in a laboratory, the best part is that you can eat your experiments to verify your hypotheses.
As an added bonus to using cooking and baking as a teaching tool, not only are you tackling a difficult subject to teach, but your children will walk away with valuable life skills and great family memories.
Kids enjoy hands-on learning experiences. Baking and cooking is a hands-on learning activity at its best.
Start teaching your children culinary science via kitchen chemistry at an early age. Who knows…by the time they graduate, you might have taught the next Master Chef or a Molecular Gastronomy Genius. Even if they never pursue a career as a professional chef, they will at least be fully comfortable cooking meals for themselves and will understand the science that happens in the kitchen.
Here are a few concepts that can easily be taught in your kitchen laboratory:
- Measurement systems
- Chemical Reactions
- Acids and Bases
- PH Scale
- Physical and Chemical Changes
- Solutions and Mixtures
- Properties of Matter
- The Scientific Method
I have compiled a list of topics, activities, books, and videos on the topic of kitchen chemistry to get you started on your culinary science aka kitchen chemistry journey.
Even though I taught this subject to my high school-aged child, you can start teaching culinary science concepts to children at a very young age. Training in kitchen chemistry is ideal for children of all ages. Who knows, through this kitchen chemistry study, even we adults may learn something new.
Not all of the kitchen chemistry experiments will provide final products to eat and enjoy, but they all deal with the science of baking or cooking and introduce your kids to the kitchen!
General Kitchen Chemistry Resources for All Ages
The Science of Baking Podcast
Cake Central Great resource for recipes and tutorials
Kitchen Chemistry Resources for Preschool- Elementary
Meet Mr. Gallon Activity
King Gallon Video
Kitchen Chemistry Resources for Middle School – High School
Flavor of Organic Chemistry A Kitchen Chemistry Activity explaining flavor
I Second That Emulsion Explore mixtures and emulsions by making mayonnaise
Butter in a Bottle Experiment
Culinary Institute of America- Handouts, lesson plans, and videos Lots of information on the Chemical Reactions Involved in Baking a Caketopic of kitchen chemistry
Kitchen Chemistry through Baking a Cake Chemical Reactions
Will It Kombucha? An experiment in Fermentation Video from American Chemical Society
The Chemistry of Sriracha: Hot Sauce Science Scoville Scale Video
Why Does Bacon Smell So Good? Maillard Reaction Video
Science of Yeast Yeast Experiments
Physics of Baking Video
The Chemistry of Cookies Video
How Does a Cake Rise? Video
The Science of Baking Video
Cooking Measurements Video
Culinary Schools and Career Information
Good Eats with Alton Brown TV Series
Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking by Simon Quellen Field
How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science by Paula Figoni
Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman
What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke
Other chemistry resources you might be interested in:
- Egg and Vinegar Experiment with 2 Twists
- Why Do Leaves Change Color (Plus, you’ll learn why leaves are green in the Spring and Summer!)
- Rainbow Density Experiment
- Oxygen and Fire Experiment
About the author of this article:
Tonya Totin brings over 25 years of teaching experience. She has homeschooled her 3 children for the past 2 decades. She has worked with multiple children with learning differences. She has had to research extensively to find curriculum/ learning opportunities that would be the perfect fit for each child’s learning style. She has taught in co-ops, led Scout troops, and was active in the American Heritage Girls. She researches fun and educational resources that we can share with you.