This May sees the approaching project presentations for the chemistry class’ annual molecular gastronomy project.
Students take their pre-existing chemistry knowledge and build upon it for this project, learning recipe-specific chemistry for use in their personally-designed experiments.
“I learned about protein denaturing,” said Paula Cieszkiewicz, a senior in chemistry. “Your typical acid-base reaction is affected by the salt chains, so basically what happens is the chains form in a different way when the pH is different, and that changes the shape of the proteins, and that’s what’s actually denaturing the proteins. So while it seems like a texture kind of thing, it’s actually changing the internal structure, which denatures the protein.”
After learning about the chemistry, students then apply their knowledge to the recipes themselves. They change the recipes by adding or subtracting an ingredient to in some way improve the texture, taste, or consistency, forming a hypothesis on how the food will react based on what they’ve learned.
“I made shepherd’s pie, which could be a pie or could be a casserole, depending on which country you’re making it in. So I decided to make the casserole form of that, since it’s easy to divide into three sections,” said Paula. “So I controlled the way I was cooking the meat. In one control substance I just cooked the meat with the vegetables like everything else, and in one trial I added some baking soda to increase the pH and create a more balanced system, and in the third trial I did not cook it with the vegetables so it was drier meat, and that was essentially what I was investigating–how the pH or the liquidity of the meat substance affected the proteins in the meat.”
While some students choose to change ingredients, others varied cooking techniques.
“I decided to make a pasta. I made the investigation focused on the different ways proteins could be denatured, along with the typical acid-base reaction between glutamates (tomatoes) and nucleotides (meats), with the variable being the length in which they’re cooked, while the temperature remains the same,” said Grace Cieszkiewicz, a junior in chemistry class. “So I decided to hold three different trials, where the controlled one had a set cooking time of all the sauce components, which has tomatoes and meats of course, and have that 5 to 7 minutes in the controlled one, and then in the next two trials stack on another 4 minutes, and so on. Overall it worked out really well. I got good results; the data’s good, the chemistry’s good, and it was lots of fun.”
Students are given plenty of time to complete their experiments, since mishaps or delays sometimes occur.
“Well, I had to cook quickly, because Grace had to do hers next, so that was a little annoying. And clearing kitchen space was kind of annoying,” said Paula. “And also getting my family to eat both, because we didn’t want to be doing our own trials and then eating them ourselves. It wasn’t so much as a mishap as it was kind of funny, because they weren’t eating hers, they were eating mine because I finished first.”
Despite the ups and downs, this project often inspires students to continue on with either cooking, chemistry, or both.
“Well I’d like to say I have projects in the works, but unfortunately I’m too focused on robotics projects, so for the time being, no,” said Grace. “But I’m excited for AP Chem next year–Shiroma better be ready for this girl! But I’m very excited to be in AP Chem next year and pursue chemistry, not just in high school, but beyond.”