What's cooking in the kitchen? Students explore chemistry through an alternative lens

Posted on 01 November 2022

It might not seem obvious, but a lot of maths and chemistry goes into baking the perfect chocolate cake. That’s what the junior students at Kelston Girls College have discovered in their WeSTEM Pico Project, Kitchen Chemistry, an integrated research project investigating the everyday chemistry processes that occur during cooking.

This transdisciplinary project integrated English and chemistry topics to inspire students through fun, hands-on experiments while developing their numeracy, literacy and scientific skills.

English teacher, Rebecca McGrath, says, “Chemistry can seem a bit dry, a bit quite abstract. But the process of learning the science, doing the hands-on experience, then going back, writing up the scientific method and formula just makes everything tie together, and you can see that little light bulb go off.”

Throughout the project, students focused on Pacific food and preparation, for example, cooking fa’ausi. This showcased different techniques that can be used and chemistry processes that occur when food is cooked.  To add to their understanding, the rangatahi were visited by Amy Maslen-Miller, who discussed her PhD research surrounding the revitalisation of traditional Samoan diets. Students also went on a field trip to Massey University’s School of Food and Advanced Technology, where they were guided by Senior Lecturer, Dr Tony Mutukumira.

A final experiment involved testing which chocolate creates the best ganache. This research included meeting a chocolatier and working together in the kitchen to understand the highly technical aspects of working with chocolate. Students were first taught about the chemistry behind this emulsion and how the fats and oils impact the texture of the ganache. They were then taken to the Kitchen Collective in Glendene for a practical lesson on the tempering of chocolate with Tom Hilton from Ao Cacao.

Watch the students in action below.

The connections with local food scientists and trips to the university labs and professional kitchens, and purchase of equipment and ingredients, were made possible through WeSTEM Pico Project funding. The WeSTEM participatory science programme aims to support Pasifika youth in West Auckland to undertake relevant and practical research in collaboration with STEAM role models.

Find out more about WeSTEM here.