March 2011

Exploring science through food

Teaching materials for this course can be a particular challenge. There are several interesting books that incorporate science and cooking, but few of them are written to be used explicitly as textbooks. In my class, we use Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.” This is a great book and is well received by the students. Supplementary materials on biochemistry and the science of taste, smell and flavor also are provided, along with good PowerPoint presentations, learning objectives and many other student resources. Creating test questions and study questions also has proven to be particularly challenging.

For more information

• MIT’s Kitchen Chemistry course 
• The Science of Cooking course website  

This past fall was the first time the Science of Cooking course was taught, and there already are 130 students enrolled in the spring 2011 semester, making it one of the largest classes taught at the Minnesota State University Moorhead. Student evaluation of the course has been very encouraging. Initial assessment shows that the course helped them learn basic scientific principles. Students particularly favored using the “Good Eats” videos as a supplement to the course materials. However, more work is needed to develop laboratory materials. While they liked the experiments, students felt less enthusiastic about defining scientific problems and testing hypotheses. Creating graphs and analyzing trends also was difficult for some students. To adjust for this, short YouTube tutorial videos will be created for the class website. The course is a work in progress and likely still has a lot in common with “Hell’s Kitchen.” However, the materials are very interesting, and the course provides a great way to inspire students to see the world around them through new, scientific lenses.

Joseph Provost (provost@mnstate.edu) is a professor of chemistry at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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