On November 19th, the Sisters4Science girls at Ariel were visited by Rebecca Thompson who is a graduate student at The University of Chicago working a physical chemistry lab in the Gordon Center for Integrative Science. To show the girls some of the work that she does in her lab, Rebecca gave us a cooking lesson to teach us some molecular gastronomy with two separate food demonstrations. While molecular gastronomy may sound confusing, Rebecca did a great job of explaining it! Molecular gastronomy is basically a type of food science that studies the physical and chemical transformations that various food ingredients undergo when cooked. To help demonstrate it, we made ice cream using liquid nitrogen and also did some liquid spherification.
To start off the liquid nitrogen ice cream, Rebecca asked the girls if anyone knew what a solution was. Audrey, a 5th grader, told us that a solution is when you combine a solid and a liquid together to make just one liquid. To go off of that, Laurie said that “the solid has to be dissolved in the liquid!” This was all true, and the girls used this info to begin their ice cream-making. They combined sugar, half-and-half, and vanilla to create their ice cream solution. The only thing they had left to do after that was freeze it – that’s where the liquid nitrogen comes in! Rebecca brought liquid nitrogen from her work to make the ice cream solution go from a liquid to a solid. Liquid nitrogen is special because it rapidly freezes the fat and water molecules of the ice cream and gives it its creamy texture. Delicious science, indeed!
Next, the girls were able to make some chocolate spaghetti. While the food only needs chocolate and milk to get the right taste; the secret ingredient in this demo was agar agar! Agar agar is a powder that can make gelatin-like substances without using animal products like normal gelatin does. When asked what other foods gelatin is in, Lanaya said that it’s used in jello and that’s why it’s so jiggly. Well, the girls got to make their own jiggly noodles! They first melted the milk, chocolate, and agar agar and inserted it into a silicon tube. After that, they dunked the silicon tube into a bucket of ice and popped the chocolate out with a syringe. What came out was a long chocolate noodle! “I’ve never seen a syringe used to make food before”, said Faith, one of our 6th graders. Well, that’s molecular gastronomy for you!