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Kitchen Chemistry: The Science of Flavor

Recipes

Whether your girl has a picky palate or an adventurous appetite, teaching her the science behind the flavors she loves (or loves to hate) can help her expand her culinary tastes and approach unfamiliar foods with bravery. And if she's struggling with a dietary restriction like 2019 Girl of the Year™ Blaire Wilson™, untangling the chemistry of flavor can help her find new foods she loves that make her body feel great.

What is it about a juicy slice of watermelon that makes her mouth water? Why does a wrinkly lima bean send her running from the table in tears? Try these three experiments with your girl to explore the main components of flavor: taste, aroma, and texture. Then, document your findings to help her better understand her preferences—and maybe even discover some new flavors to try. 

Taste Experiment

Taste is all about the chemicals that make up food interacting with your taste buds. But for that to happen, you need saliva! Saliva helps dissolve food chemicals so that your taste buds can actually taste them. To show your girl how this works, try this experiment together: 

taste-experiment-img-1

 

STEP 1

Gather some crackers, a glass of drinking water, and some clean paper towels. 

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STEP 2

Use a paper towel to dry your tongue. Then, in small bites, eat a cracker. (It might not be easy to do!) 

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STEP 3

Take a drink of water and then eat another cracker. What’s different this time? She should notice that it’s easier to taste the cracker when her mouth is wet. 

Aroma Experiment

Your sense of smell plays a big role in how food tastes. Ask your girl to remember the last time she had a cold. When she can’t breathe through her nose, it’s difficult to taste food. When her nasal passages are clear, chewing forces air through them. Odor molecules in food come in contact with receptors at the opening of her nasal passages. Like taste buds, these receptors send messages to her brain about the food she's eating. Try this experiment together to see (and smell!) how aroma affects taste: 

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STEP 1

Get an apple and cut it into slices. 

STEP 2

Pinch your nose and eat an apple slice. 

STEP 3

Eat a second apple slice, but this time, don’t pinch your nose. This time, the apple taste should be much stronger.

Try this experiment again at your next meal. Notice how pinching your nose affects a food’s taste.  

Texture Experiment

Texture, like taste and aroma, helps your brain understand what you’re eating. Ask your girl to think of baby food. Because it’s soft and mushy, it can be hard to figure out exactly what she's eating—apple puree tastes a lot like pear puree. But fresh apples and pears have different textures when you chew them, which makes the flavor different.

Blaire and her mom tackle a texture experiment of their own to find a non-dairy alternative to Blaire's favorite food: grilled cheese. But the result is less than mouth-watering, thanks to the unfamiliar texture of the soy cheese.

“I took a bite. Crispy bead, check. Warm gooeyness, check. But as I chewed, something wasn't right. The texture was rubbery, and it didn't taste like the cheese I loved. I tried not to think of the worm Beckett had found in the moss earlier.”

Blaire p. 98

 

Enjoying food substitutes—like milk and wheat alternatives—can be challenging when the texture doesn’t match up with what your girl is used to. Help her explore which textures she likes best with this experiment:  

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STEP 1

Gather some quick oats, water, and three bowls.  

STEP 2

Mix the correct amount of oats and water, according to the instructions on the quick oats container. Put three equal amounts in each bowl. 

STEP 3

Cook one bowl in the microwave for one minute, one for two minutes, and the final bowl for three minutes. Notice how the texture changes based on cooking time. Oatmeal cooked for less time will be thinner, and oatmeal cooked for more time becomes thicker and mushier.  

Flavor Findings

Now, apply what you've learned about flavor to the foods your girl encounters in real life. Use a chart like the one below to record the taste, aroma, and texture of foods she likes and dislikes. If she changes something about a food she dislikes, is it possible she might actually start liking it? For example, what if instead of dry, bland lima beans, she tasted tender lima beans swimming in delicious broth and spices? She might discover that she's a more adventurous eater than she thought!

Flavor-chart

©2019 American Girl. All American Girl marks are trademarks of American Girl.

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