Kitchen science lab projects for kids
Summer is here but that doesn’t mean your kids need to stop learning. Here are some kid-friendly science experiments—ranging from easy to harder—to do in the kitchen this summer because three months of Summer is a long time to go without some fun experiments. Of course, all of these experiments should be done with parental supervision.
1. Maillard Reactions (A.K.A a Chef’s Best Friend)
The Maillard reaction, sometimes referred to as the browning reaction, is one of the tastiest techniques used in cooking. It is a non-enzymatic browning between amino acid (the building blocks of protein) and a reducing sugar usually using heat. In other words, maillard reaction is the interaction of protein and a sugar in foods which creates unique colors, smells and flavors. The flavors and smells created can be roasted, nutty or meat-like, but can be different for all foods.
The Maillard reaction won’t happen if there is excess liquid present. The Maillard reaction combined with caramelization is why we don’t get the same smells and roasted flavors from vegetables when they are boiled instead of roasted. Maillard reactions happen best when two factors are used: dryness and high heat. They can happen quickly like when we bake (or toast) bread or slowly like when grapes are dried into raisins.
Experiment with the Maillard reaction at home:
Grab two slices of bread and toast one of them. Can you see the difference? Smell it? Taste it? That’s the Maillard reactions making its tasty magic happen.
Onions are full of sugars but they also have amino acids. Slowly cook onions in a little oil (with an adults help) at a low heat. Slowly over time you will see and smell the Maillard reaction (as well as a different process of caramelization) happening right in front of you.
2. PH Scale: Acids and Bases
Almost every liquid has either acidic or basic (also known as alkaline) traits. On an atomic level, acids are made up of lots of hydrogen atoms, and bases have lots of hydroxide atoms.
But beyond the chemistry, acids are sour and dissolve materials. Our stomach uses gastric acid to help digest our food. Bases are bitter, slimy and are often used for cleaning because they help break down dirt. Baking soda is basic and is often used in toothpaste to help break up plaque on our teeth.When an acid is added to a base it because neutral, meaning it is neither acidic or basic.
We measure acids and bases with the PH scale. The scale is 0 to 14: 0-7 = acid, 7 is neutral (like pure water), 7-14 = bases.
Safety Note: Acid substances around 1 or less on the PH Scale or basic substances 13 or above can be very dangerous.
Experiment with acids and bases at home:
Taste test small amounts of edible acids and bases found in your kitchen. Make sure to ask an adult what can or cannot be eaten. Using the traits we talked about before, can you tell which ones are acids and bases?
Try: Orange Juice, Baking Soda*, Lemon, Almond Milk
*Large amounts of baking soda can be dangerous so make sure to only try a pinch.
With an adults supervision, blend 4 cabbage leaves in a blender filled half way with water. Strain the solids out of the liquid, pour the purple liquid in to 5 or 6 clear small glasses. Pour different liquids (like lemon, hair conditioner, baking soda, non-dairy milk, soap, vinegar) into each cup and see what happens. The liquid will turn dark blue-green if it is basic and bright pink if acidic. See what happens when you mix one of the acidic mixtures with a basic mixture.
3. States of Matter: Solid, Liquids and Gas
Matter is made of particles and can exist in three states: Solid, Liquid, or Gas.
In solid state, particles are very close together because of this solids have a definite shape and volume. Imagine a square full of lots of dots so close together you can barely tell where one ends and the other begins.
In liquid state, particles are packed closely together but farther apart than in solids. Liquids have a definite volume but not shape. Liquid takes the shape of the container holding it. In this square, imagine dots again, this time they are still close but far enough apart you can see the edges of all the dots. These dots take the shape of the square because they do not have their own definite shape. If you were to pour the dots into a circle they would take the shape of the circle. A solid would keep the shape of the square if moved to a new shape.
In gas state, particles are very far from each other. Gases have neither a definite shape or volume and can fill up the space available for them regardless of container size. In this last square, imagine your dots are very far apart. If you were to have a bigger square, the same amount of dots would fill it even though it was larger than the first.
Experiment with states of matter at home:
WATER IN 3 STATES
With the help of an adult, fill 3 bowls: one with water, the second with ice and the last with boiling water. This is water in all 3 states of matter.
What else in the kitchen can be in all 3 states of matter?
My personal favorite change of state is a smoothie or juice (liquid) frozen into popsicles (solid) because it is delicious science!
Kids Can Cook 101
Looking for more summer family fun? Do you have aspiring chefs living with you? Sit down with them and this how-to guide on every kitchen basic they need to know to be safe and successful in the kitchen.
What kitchen experiments have you tried?
Vaclavik VA, Christian EW. (2008). Essentials of Food Science. 3rd Ed.