As food culture evolves into a new age of unprecedented accessibility (thanks to the Food Network, the Internet, gourmet grocers, specialty food boutiques, etc.), gourmet meals are an every day reality for the at-home cook and everyday eater alike. A blur of diets, free-from trends (think gluten, meat, dairy, processed foods, etc.) and more have put consumers in the driver’s seat of their daily menu. But what’s often lost in the kitchen of the everyday consumer is the art of food science. Why do simple sugars and starches matter? What role do enzymes play in food? What’s the role of microbes in food texture? In fact, what is a microbe? The industry understands this; however, educating the consumer may be beneficial.
So the Journal of Food Science Education put together a presentation for the general public, including kids ages 6 and up, to teach them “The Science of Pizza: The Molecular Origins of Cheese, Bread, and Digestion Using Interactive Activities for the General Public" (2015;9(4):106-12).
The presentation focused on the science of making and digesting cheese and bread. It highlighted four major scientific themes:
1. How macromolecules such as carbohydrates and proteins are composed of atoms and small molecules
2. How macromolecules interact to form networks in bread and cheese
3. How microbes contribute to the texture of bread
4. How enzymes break down macromolecules during digestion
Using live demonstrations and interactive exercises with children in the audience, they provided simple explanations of the scientific principles related to these themes that are essential for understanding how to make pizza, and what happens when we eat it. According to the authors, “This general approach can be adapted to a variety of informal and classroom settings focused on sharing the excitement of scientific discovery and understanding with students and the public."
Here’s an example of one of the set-up used, listed by theme, the demo/ audience participation and the main scientific concept:
Networks. Formation of alginate gel in calcium chloride solution; children link hands to form a network.
Main scientific concept: Networks form when molecules link together.
Microbes. Children play the role of yeast cells and cause the network to expand; yeast inflate balloon that is sealed on top of bottle.
Main scientific concept: Microbes alter the texture of bread.
Digestion. Children act as simple sugars that link together to form chains of complex carbohydrates; “enzymes" come along and break the chains of children apart.
Main scientific concept: Enzymes break down macromolecules into simple sugars for energy.
I think, perhaps, educating consumers on the science of making any food can be useful given the role consumers now play in driving the food trends. This may give them an appreciation and better understanding of what goes into making their food.