Ever wonder the secret to baking a perfect muffin? Chemistry professor Susan Green’s “Food Chemistry” students are in the lab, determined to find the magic solution.

At first glance, their homework for today’s assignment sounds enticing—naturally, they had to bake the test muffins. But if you think muffins disappeared in the prep process, think again: there’s no flavor in them, only varying amounts of baking soda and baking powder. One recipe included only baking soda, one just baking powder, and one called for a combination of both.

In the lab, they’re testing the leaveners to see what makes the muffins rise. Half of the students are calculating the volume and density of each muffin; the others are testing reactions with the leaveners and water to see how much gas is produced.

It’s the first time the department has offered this class, and its appeal is broad: most of the students enrolled aren’t chemistry majors, and there’s a long waiting list. “I’ve always wanted to teach a food chemistry course,” says Green, whose desk is stacked high with cookbooks. She’s especially inspired by America’s Test Kitchen, which she chose as the course textbook because of the science vignettes featured among the recipes.

Each week, in addition to cooking and blogging about their projects, the students talk about a concept’s structure with Green, then head into the lab to test it firsthand. She moves around the room, pausing at lab tables to answer questions and help students troubleshoot. It’s all part of the joy of food chemistry, says Green: “We’re having a lot of fun.”

November 7 2019

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