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Science of Food at BHS

In Lisa Vlicky’s Science of Food Class at Brewster High School, students are thinking like chefs and scientists. They are learning scientific concepts behind cooking and how to become experimental scientists in their own kitchens, and best of all, they get to taste their laboratory experiments.

The class is a new science elective for students in grades 10-12. Vlicky wanted to bring the Science of Food to the high school because she found herself talking about food in her biology courses, so she thought students would be interested in an elective that is focused on learning about things like: food composition, nutrition, and food preparation–in essence, cooking and food preparation are essentially a series of chemical reactions.

Today the lesson is on fats and emulsification and the lab is entitled: Brownies. Students must make brownies with alternatives to fats ( applesauce, mashed black beans or banana) and then compare the basic recipe (Pillsbury, chocolate) with oil to the modified recipe with the fat substitute, which is in this case, mashed bananas.

Vlicky breaks the class in half and assigns Group A the basic recipe and Group B the modified recipe. As she doles out the cooking tools, she explains that fatty acids interact with things differently and can behave differently in baking.

“Even the darkness of the pan can conduct heat differently, so we need to pay attention to details,” Vlicky said.

As students measure and mix the ingredients, they fill out a lab sheet complete with their Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning.

“We are going to have to predict which one is the basic recipe and which one is the banana brownie recipe,” said Brianna Fridson, “based on the texture, density, and probably the flavor–I wonder if we will be able to even taste the bananas?”

Andrew Tingall, Hailey Barbosa, and Julia Marrero are all using plastic forks to mash two bananas–after about a minute they have produced a half a cup of a liquefied banana goo.

“Why do you think this type of fat substitute might be helpful?” asked Vlicky.

“For dietary reasons,” said Will Dignan.

“Sugars get converted to fats in the body,” said Juan Ingunza.

As the class discussed fats and sugars, the smell of brownies baking filled the air.

“It smells like my grandmother’s house at Christmas,” said Tingall.

The class period ended before the brownies were baked, but two days later, the students were back in the classroom stationed at their lab tables with napkins and pencils. The verdict:  the banana version missed the mark; the classic recipe was definitely the class favorite for its fudgy texture and flavor.