Thanksgiving Science!

Turkey wtih rosemary and olives in baking dish

Unaltered image. Ruocaled, Flickr. CC License.

Have you ever caught an episode of the television show “Good Eats,” starring Alton Brown? It was a Food Network show that incorporated science, humor and interesting facts with cooking. Believe it or not, this show is the reason why I decided to go into the food science field. It combined all my favorite elements of science with my other favorite thing: food!

Whenever I cook, I also think about the science behind it. It’s one of my favorite things to share with all of those around me, whether they’re willing to listen or not. My kids are my best audience and, like most kids, they’re little sponges and love sharing the new information they just learned. What a great opportunity to teach and make food fun.

I use almost any occasion to talk about science, but what better time of the year to do this than Thanksgiving? With all the food we’re about to share with loved ones, and all the memories we’re about to make, we can take a moment to learn about a few things like why turkey makes us sleepy (does it?), the differences between sweet potatoes and yams, and how to cut onions without crying. I even have a link to a few experiments that you can do at home!

Turkey Talk. Many of us blame the turkey for our post-dinner drowsiness, but is the amino acid tryptophan really to blame? About Education has a newly updated article on the matter. It turns out that the food coma we experience is actually due to a combination of factors such as carbohydrate, fat and alcohol consumption (or overeating in general).

A Tear-Free Onion Experience. If you cook, you’re most likely all too familiar with the searing eye pain that comes with chopping onions. Why does this happen? Well, in short, those fumes that radiate from the onion actually contain a form of sulfur that, when in contact with the fluid of your eyes, combines to produce sulfuric acid! This article by Popular Science goes into more detail about this reaction, and you can find even more kitchen science within the article.

What steps can we take to prevent this reaction from happening? The author suggests chilling the whole onion for 30 minutes before cutting. An episode of “Good Eats” once taught me to cut onions next to the faucet with the water running so that the sulfur mixes with that water and not my eyes! It works!

Pass the Yams. Candied yams. Sweet potato pie. Can you tell the difference between a yam and a sweet potato? This article helps decipher the difference between the two tubers. If that isn’t helpful, check out this is useful flow chart.

Typically a sweet potato will have orange flesh when you cut it open. This also means, nutritionally speaking, that it contains over 100 times the amount of vitamin A than its white-fleshed counterpart, the yam! Aside from vitamin A, both are similar nutritionally and provide a good source of fiber.

Turkey Timers. Ever wonder how those little plastic sticks can tell you when a turkey is done? Did you know they are reusable? Read “How Pop-Up Turkey Timers Work”.

More Kitchen Science. If you’re interested in obtaining the perfectly cooked bird, creamiest mashed potatoes, or the flakiest crust, Popular Science offers a Turkey Day Chemistry in the Kitchen page.

Fall Leaves Falling. I also found an interesting podcast by Robert Krulwich, of NPR’s series “Radiolab” (my fave!). It explains why leaves fall from trees! Listen to it here. Maybe while you’re preparing (to eat) all that food?

Experimentation! I frequently visit Steve Spangler’s science blog for fun tricks and experiments for the kids. Here you can find an array of experiments, along with their videos. Keep guests of all ages entertained!

I hope you enjoyed the kitchen science I shared with you in this post. Maybe one of these topics will be brought up during your dinner discussion and you can share your newfound knowledge with those around you. Most importantly be sure to have fun, relax, savor the food and time with your loved ones, and be sure to make memories. If you want to see a Thanksgiving episode of “Good Eats”, you can find it here.

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!

– Joohi Schrader, is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.

3 Responses to “Thanksgiving Science!”


  1. 1 Anonymous November 26, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Kitchen science along with some great tips! Nice!! Thank you!

  2. 2 Sig Nordal Jr. November 26, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Reblogged this on Sig Nordal, Jr..

  3. 3 Sarah Jo Sautter November 26, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    This is awesome! We are science and food geeks here, too. Thanks for all the links.


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