Reviewed by Judy Kraus
Changes in matter, acids and bases, biochemistry, and molecular structures are middle school science standards that are taught across the country. Food labs are a highly engaging and motivational way to connect classroom science concepts to the real world. This book introduces students to physical and chemical changes that occur to create favorite foods, ranging from butter and gelatinous invertebrates to pretzels and cinnamon rolls.
A scenario is presented to pique interest at the beginning of each lab. For example, the "Butter Battle Lab" describes the amount of butter consumed by Americans in a lifetime, and "Growing a Pancake" invites students to create an environment for growing yeast. Student pages include background information, a problem with a prompt for a hypothesis, a materials list, procedures, data collection and analysis suggestions, and conclusion and connections prompts. As labs are implemented, the guided structure becomes less formal and leads to more inquiry-based edible labs. The teacher pages follow a similar format and begin by addressing the science concepts illustrated in each lab, the standards, and vocabulary. Whether monitoring the yeast in pretzels and observing its growth with a microscope, calculating the density of cinnamon rolls, or controlling variables in the creation of blueberry soda, the teacher has a detailed plan with expected outcomes and possible pitfalls.
The materials list is always listed scientifically and then decoded for the grocery store. Dual names on items are suggested so students become familiar with the relationship between the “common” name, the scientific name, and the ingredient label. Cross-curricular connections and optional extensions for both middle school and high school are included for each lab.
When using these labs, it's important to remember that both government regulations and NSTA policies always discourage eating in a science lab. The author addresses her initial concerns about edible labs in the science classroom on page one. From the cleanliness of the room and the utensils to the organizational structure necessary to safely achieve the goals of each lab, she details her journey and environmental restructuring. ABC—always be cleaning—is her lab motto. General safety guidelines and more detailed guidelines for the use of Bunsen burners and hotplates are included with an emphasis on the need for separate tools to be used for all edible labs. However, It would be impossible to clean and sterilize lab tools to remove all other chemical residue that could contaminate an edible lab in a normal science classroom. So, to conform to appropriate guidelines, these labs should be relocated to areas where there could not be contaminants or residues—alternative classrooms or the cafeteria, for instance. Then students who are hungry for relevant science can "have their labs and eat them too."
Gourmet Lab: The Scientific Principles Behind Your Favorite Foods offers teachers a way to thoroughly engage students in science and make them aware of ingredients in the foods they eat. The molecular structure of sugar, the diagram of a yeast cell, and even the pH values of a range of items may cause students to further investigate what they are putting into their mouths. A more thoughtful and informed scientific consumer will be born!
Review posted on 7/20/2011