Carrie Fehr

Kitchen Garden Food and Fitness

Tag: Science of Cooking Class

The Science of Cooking: Citrus Rocks

By Carrie Fehr

“If we look deeply into a flower, what do we see? Sunshine, a cloud, earth, minerals, the gardener, the complete cosmos.”-Thich Nhat Hanh

Citrus Rocks:  Citrus rocks the Science of Cooking Class where fourth grade Chef Scientists explore the link between minerals that originate in the soil, to the unique role it plays on the human diet through plants, such as fruits and vegetables, along with a little history about citrus, some fun anecdotes, and a healthy recipe.

Citrus Love: With its sheer variety and profusion of colors, citrus fruit esteemed in many cultures as a symbol of happiness, is not hard to love. Even though many citrus fruits are common, there are a few lesser known examples in our harvest basket that stand out, like the wild-looking, yet extremely fragrant Buddha’s hand, or the tiny oval kumquat often classified in its own genus, though with its sweet rind and intense tart pulp–make our lips pucker, to the beloved pomelo, which is heavy like a bowling bowl, and grows on a tree that spans across the landscape up to an impressive 50 feet high.  The citrus harvest basket is brimming with diverse learning opportunities that weave together its folklore, health, and environment, and imparts a sense of wonder and appreciation that inspire students to retell the citrus anecdotes from memory, throughout the year.  Retelling a story is a valuable sequencing skill that supports reading comprehension and writing skills in the classroom, and is notable, since cooking classes only meet one hour a month, and in some cases, less than that.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Good to the Bone:  As we turn our spotlight over to the science lab, fourth graders  discover that minerals come from the earth, and that humans absorb these minerals through the plants they eat.  As scientists, they explore the nutrients in citrus fruit, and learn that aside from the immune boosting benefits of Vitamin C, it is chock-full of minerals that help our bones, teeth, and muscles, to name a few.  And last but not least, folate, a nutrient that improves mood by raising the serotonin levels in our body, can help explain why we feel so good after eating citrus fruit.

Getting Pithy:  One of the many virtues of citrus is the entire fruit is usable– the pulp, the juice, and aromatic peel, complete as nature intended, and as it turns out, is the perfect ingredient for the recipe– Fruit Roll Ups.  Click here for the link to the recipe.  Student chefs put their cooking skills into action using four colorful varieties of citrus fruit– the Cara Cara, Moro Blood, and Navel Oranges, along with the Satsuma Mandarin. As they section, slice, zest, peel, and juice, their way through the recipe, our chefs discover after eating the soft pulp leftover from juicing, that the hollowed out navel orange morphs into a drinking cup!  Finally, we mix and match citrus vocabulary words, like pithy, zesty, and juicy in a citrus acrostic poem, where students create phrases using the concepts they learned from the Science of Cooking Class.  Mindful eating, along with citrus poetry is a great ending to our class.

The Science Of Food: The Chef And The Scientist

Teaching science through the lens of cooking encourages students to understand the valuable connection between a chef and scientist, and offers a rich stew of inquiry-based science lessons that reinforces the vital role food plays in our health.

The Lesson:  In the science of cooking lesson, fifth graders explore the relationship of cellular respiration, a process about how cells extract energy from food– and its impact on our health.  In the concept of cellular respiration, students learn that the human body uses sugar glucose as a main source of energy, and when combined with oxygen, it will release that energy.  For example, eating simple carbohydrates, will offer a quick boost of energy, but the excess glucose (energy) will convert into fat, also increasing the risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, an epidemic that according to experts affects one out of three children and teens.  Eating foods rich in complex carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, will breakdown the glucose more slowly, process the energy more efficiently,  and will help  lower the risk for getting diseases.

The Experiment: To prove the effects of cellular respiration, students investigate three different nutrient sources from the recipe, Three Sisters Succotash aka Corn, Beans, and Squash.  Yeast, a single cell organism that can convert sugar into carbon dioxide, is mixed with each nutrient source, and then sealed inside a plastic bag submerged in a warm water bath.  For comparison purposes, students create a fourth variable that is only sugar.  Students make predictions on what they think will happen between the nutrient sources and the sugar.  Lucky this is the science of cooking class, because students now put on their chef hats and prepare the recipe, Three Sisters Succotash, while waiting on the outcome of the cellular respiration experiment.

As another epic class concludes, the results of the experiment confirm that sugar processes energy the fastest, but yet the message is clear:  slow and steady, corn, beans, and squash will win the race, the marathon of all–good health.


The Science of Cooking

The idea behind the Science of Cooking Class took shape when two teachers, one part science, and one part cooking, decided to team up and collaborate on a new and exciting approach to teaching science concepts through food, and as a result, The Science of Cooking Class came about.

Each Science of Cooking Class focuses on a nutrition lesson, a cooking lab activity, and a science concept. Students gain practical knowledge and skills by exploring the scientific components of each lesson. A study in the November/December 2011 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior shows how cooking in the classroom successfully helps students learn school subjects and develop cooking skills. Even at the higher educational level, the benefits and importance of combining cooking with an academic subject have become clear.

At Harvard University, the administration encouraged their faculty to create new ideas for courses that connect classrooms to the “life outside,” an experiential approach that students embrace. Offering a course on, The Science of the Physical Universe, Cooking and Science, proved extremely successful at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “This course may accomplish what I’ve been trying to do for so many years — make physics interesting, ’’ said David Weitz, Harvard professor of physics and applied physics, who led the course. (Boston Globe, 10/10) “I spent all my life in academia trying to teach physics… Weitz said. “And for the first time students were interested. They wanted to learn—they enjoyed it.” (Harvard Crimson, 12/10/10)

This month, the featured topic in the Science of Cooking Class for fourth graders, focused on how the electrolytes from a pear play a key role in sending signals to our muscles, brain, and heart. To illustrate the point, we showed how a pear uses its electrolytes to conduct an electrical charge from two different metals to make an electrical circuit, highlighting a science lesson on magnetism and electricity.

Beyond exposing students to the connections that underlie these two subjects, it also creates another dialogue for supporting greater collaboration between teachers of different subjects at school. Plus, the value of integrating science with cooking and how it relates in the classroom offers students both practical skills and conceptual tools that will serve them well in life.