Food Serves as Subject for New Chemistry Class

Students in Jay Foley’s chemistry class are conducting an experiment that looks at the impact of salt on gluten formation. Specifically, they are making pizza dough.

The course? Chemistry of Cuisine, a new offering in the Chemistry Department specifically designed to introduce students to chemical concepts as they pertain to food, the culinary industry, agriculture, taste, and nutrition.

According to Foley, the course was created to be approachable to all University students, who are required to take a course in scientific perspectives as part of the University Core Curriculum. “Food is a very accessible way to introduce chemical concepts,” says Foley. The course is covering topics such as the chemical components of flavor, chemical components of nutrition, chemical features of food, and chemical aspects of agriculture, with lab exercises that teach fundamentals such as measurement, precision, and analysis.

For example, for the pizza dough experiment, the students divided into four groups. Each group made the dough using the same amount of flour and water, but with a different percentage of salt: no salt dough (0 percent), low-salt dough (1 percent), normal salt dough (2 percent), and high salt dough (3 percent). After making the four kinds of dough, samples were analyzed using the University's scanning electron microscope, which allowed the students to see how the gluten fibers formed at the molecular level, and how they differed across the four different dough preparations.

Foley hopes the students will come away feeling that science is relevant in their lives. “Everybody eats every day,” he says. “People have a great deal of passion in how they make, prepare, and enjoy food. I hope they will see the relationship to science, and how they can use scientific ways to encounter things in their everyday lives.”

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