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How to Cook That, YouTube
How to Cook That, YouTube

10 Science Experiments You Can Eat with Your Kids

How to Cook That, YouTube
How to Cook That, YouTube

There's very little about cooking that doesn’t involve chemistry, physics, biology, or even math. But don’t tell your kids that. Sneak education into your kitchen with these 10 experiments, gathered from the websites of creative teachers and parents.

1. Corncob Popcorn Experiment

Technically, you can learn this lesson with your average depressing old bag of microwave popcorn. But using a cob of popcorn and a paper bag adds a little bit of class to the whole operation. The experiment is simply done: cob, bag, microwave, and a hundred little starch fireworks.

Fun Quotient: Any kid knows food that has to explode before you eat it is the best food.

Lesson Taught: Lots, really. First, kids can learn that of the four types of common corn, only one kind—which is actually called Popcorn!—will pop, off the cob or otherwise (it’s the only one with a hull that’s just the perfect thickness for explosions). Popcorn explodes because each kernel has a perfect drop of water inside it. Your microwave quickly raises that water to the steaming point, and the pressure of the steam rips open the hull and inflates the starchy mush inside.

2. Edible Amber Fossils

The likelihood that prehistoric monsters will be cloned from DNA stuck in amber is pretty slim. But this experiment is good way to get your little monster started down the path of manipulating nature in ways no man was ever meant to.

Fun Quotient: Stuffing slimies into jiggle-goop, then eating.

Lesson Learned: Amber is the gold of archeology. This experiment, where kids “fossilize” gummies in gelatin, helps parents explain how amber can preserve prehistoric creatures in ways more delicate than any other form of fossilization.

3. Rock Candy Geodes

Rock candy on a stick? You call that kid science? Let’s see some style! Combine chemistry and geology lessons at once and make delicious rock candy geodes, as shown by this video at How to Cook That.

Fun Quotient: Pretty edible rocks inside non-pretty edible rocks. Something for all tastes. Plus, lots of mashing and squishing.

Lesson Learned: Supersaturation! Rock candy forms because you’ve dissolved so much sugar into your water that it can’t really hold it all. So, the water evaporates, the sugar precipitates, and tiny crystals of sugar cling on to one another until you’ve got a delicious geode. It’s also a good way to study the non-edible kind of geode, where crystallization happens much the same—except with minerals dripping into the hollow space of a lava bubble over millions of years. Well, sorta the same.

4. Edible Earth

Science has yet to prove that the earth’s core is not made up of gooey marshmallow crunchies. Take advantage of this shortcoming to teach your children about earth layers, via rice krispie treats.

Fun Quotient: Let’s see. Frosting, sprinkles, krispie treats, and a molten core that looks a little bit disgusting. The only thing missing to make it kid heaven is a giant trampoline to bounce on while you eat it.

Lesson Learned: A great way to show the proportions of our earth’s interior. And it offers some philosophy, too: In the grand scheme we’re only but a thin layer of frosting, and Mt. Everest is nothing but a sprinkle.

5. Eat a Dandelion

Is that really science? Heck yeah! Finding out that weeds contain enough food substance to be made into a a delicious soup is quite a discovery.

Fun Quotient: Holy cow you can eat these? I specifically remember getting in trouble for eating things I found in our yard. This is a new birth of freedom.

Lesson Learned: Children learn plant anatomy (and how much of our diet is actually either a leaf, root, or seed), how food exists outside a grocery store, and how to ask Dad three times that he’s absolutely sure he hasn’t sprayed pesticide in the side yard yet.

6. Making Butter and Whip Cream

Just because it’s something people have been doing for thousands of years doesn’t mean it won’t be a fresh, new concept to your kid.

Fun Quotient: Mess made via electric beater.

Bonus: Highly lickable.

Lesson Learned: Emulsion! You’ve whipped so many air bubbles into your cream that the fat globules are sticking together and forming tiny protective coverings over the air pockets. But what if you don’t add extra air and just knock all those fat globs around together? They start to clump into the delightful fat-spread we call butter.

7. Eat a Candle

This one might be slightly more fun to do for the kids before you do it with them. Because it will make them think your constant threats to go mental have finally become real. All you need is an apple, a nut, and some gum.

Fun Quotient: At first, not apparent. Why is Dad making me watch this candle burn in a dark room? But then, after you blow it out and pop the whole thing into your mouth, it will become their favorite sleepover staple.

Lesson Learned: First, in science you can’t assume anything. Second, nuts burn, because they are full of oil, which is fire food. Third, never trust the old man. He’s shifty.

8. Jell-O Laser Optics

You know how your eyes work? They work like Jell-O. And this experiment will prove it.

Fun Quotient: The laser pointer alone is enough to fulfill the fun criteria. Add knives and Jell-O, and you got yourself a party.

Lesson Learned: Jell-O has the awesome distinction of both allowing light to pass through, and having enough tiny solid bits inside to reflect the light. So you can see what path light (the laser) is taking when it hits the Jell-O. The more interesting shapes you cut your Jell-O into (concave and convex especially), the more different paths the light will take.

9. Treasure Hunt the Iron in Your Cereal

What does “fortified with iron” really mean? Are you really eating iron? Grab a magnet and some industrial strength cereal and find out.

Fun Quotient: Well, buying the chocolate kind of fortification is a good start. Plus there will be pulverizing.

Lesson Learned: We eat metal, the very same metal inside rocks and rusty gates. We have to, in fact, because our bodies don’t make it and we need it to carry oxygen through our blood. Also, a chance to learn that just because a sugary cereal boasts healthful looking additives on its box doesn’t make it healthy.

10. Homemade Marshmallow Chemistry

Matter is neither created nor destroyed; it’s just rearranged—in this case, from powder and liquid into puffy dollops of happy.

Fun Quotient: All the best of kitchen science: Boiling stuff, electric mixer-ing, greasing, powdering and slicing!

Lesson Learned: Molecules like to stay together. But when you use extreme heat to pull them apart, and then introduce a whole bunch of new molecules to the party, everyone has to find new buddies. The end result is often marshmallows.

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Today's Wine Glasses Are Almost Seven Times Larger Than They Were in 1700
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Holiday party season (a.k.a. hangover season) is in full swing. While you likely have no one to blame but yourself for drinking that second (or third) pour at the office soiree, your glassware isn't doing you any favors—especially if you live in the UK. Vino vessels in England are nearly seven times larger today than they were in 1700, according to a new study spotted by Live Science. These findings were recently published in the English medical journal The BMJ.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge measured more than 400 wineglasses from the past three centuries to gauge whether glass size affects how much we drink. They dug deep into the history of parties past, perusing both the collections of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford and the Royal Household's assemblage of glassware (a new set is commissioned for each monarch). They also scoured a vintage catalog, a modern department store, and eBay for examples.

After measuring these cups, researchers concluded that the average wineglass in 1700 held just 2.2 fluid ounces. For comparison's sake, that's the size of a double shot at a bar. Glasses today hold an average of 15.2 fluid ounces, even though a standard single serving size of wine is just 5 ounces.

BMJ infographic detailing increases in wine glass size from 1700 to 2017
BMJ Publishing group Ltd.

Advances in technology and manufacturing are partly to blame for this increase, as is the wine industry. Marketing campaigns promoted the beverage as it increasingly became more affordable and available for purchase, which in turn prompted aficionados to opt for larger pours. Perhaps not surprisingly, this bigger-is-better mindset was also compounded by American drinking habits: Extra-large wineglasses became popular in the U.S. in the 1990s, prompting overseas manufacturers to follow suit.

Wine consumption in both England and America has risen dramatically since the 1960s [PDF]. Cambridge researchers noted that their study doesn't necessarily prove that the rise of super-sized glassware has led to this increase. But their findings do fit a larger trend: previous studies have found that larger plate size can increase food consumption. This might be because they skew our sense of perception, making us think we're consuming less than we actually are. And in the case of wine, in particular, oversized glasses could also heighten our sensory enjoyment, as they might release more of the drink's aroma.

“We cannot infer that the increase in glass size and the rise in wine consumption in England are causally linked,” the study's authors wrote. “Nor can we infer that reducing glass size would cut drinking. Our observation of increasing size does, however, draw attention to wine glass size as an area to investigate further in the context of population health.”

[h/t Live Science]

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Researchers Pore Over the Physics Behind the Layered Latte
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The layered latte isn't the most widely known espresso drink on coffee-shop menus, but it is a scientific curiosity. Instead of a traditional latte, where steamed milk is poured into a shot (or several) of espresso, the layered latte is made by pouring the espresso into a glass of hot milk. The result is an Instagram-friendly drink that features a gradient of milky coffee colors from pure white on the bottom to dark brown on the top. The effect is odd enough that Princeton University researchers decided to explore the fluid dynamics that make it happen, as The New York Times reports.

In a new study in Nature Communications, Princeton engineering professor Howard Stone and his team explore just what creates the distinct horizontal layers pattern of layered latte. To find out, they injected warm, dyed water into a tank filled with warm salt water, mimicking the process of pouring low-density espresso into higher-density steamed milk.

Four different images of a latte forming layers over time
Xue et al., Nature Communications (2017)

According to the study, the layered look of the latte forms over the course of minutes, and can last for "tens of minutes, or even several hours" if the drink isn't stirred. When the espresso-like dyed water was injected into the salt brine, the downward jet of the dyed water floated up to the top of the tank, because the buoyant force of the low-density liquid encountering the higher-density brine forced it upward. The layers become more visible when the hot drink cools down.

The New York Times explains it succinctly:

When the liquids try to mix, layered patterns form as gradients in temperature cause a portion of the liquid to heat up, become lighter and rise, while another, denser portion sinks. This gives rise to convection cells that trap mixtures of similar densities within layers.

This structure can withstand gentle movement, such as a light stirring or sipping, and can stay stable for as long as a day or more. The layers don't disappear until the liquids cool down to room temperature.

But before you go trying to experiment with layering your own lattes, know that it can be trickier than the study—which refers to the process as "haphazardly pouring espresso into a glass of warm milk"—makes it sound. You may need to experiment several times with the speed and height of your pour and the ratio of espresso to milk before you get the look just right.

[h/t The New York Times]

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