Try these simple kitchen science experiments that utilize basic materials from the pantry! Yes, science for kids is THAT easy.
Of all the science secrets I have learned over the years, utilizing my pantry is probably the most important one. There’s a simple reason why: Cooking is chemistry. Think about it, when you cook (especially when baking ) you combine different ingredients, add heat, and create a new substance. That’s chemistry.
After years of working with children on science experiments, I realized that introducing science to kids really is as easy as a trip to your pantry/refrigerator. In fact, with 10 common household ingredients you can do a whole host of science projects. In this post I’ll share 20 kitchen science experiments to try with our Top 10 ingredients. And then I’ll share some bonus experiments using additional pantry ingredients.
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Top 10 Kitchen Science Experiment Ingredients
- Food Coloring
- Corn Syrup
- Baking Soda
- Dish Soap
Why are these ingredients perfect for science experiments?
Before we get to the kitchen science experiments, let’s talk about why each of these substances are so magical!
1. Food Coloring
A couple drops of food coloring make experiments come to life for kids. Not only does color make reactions easier to see, it also gets kids excited about trying an experiment. I always give kids a choice of colors when they do their experiments and they love any opportunity for personalization. If you will be doing a lot of experiments at home or with students in the classroom, I highly recommend you buy large bottles of food coloring at a restaurant supply store or invest in liquid watercolors. A little goes a long way.
2. Corn Syrup
Corn syrup is the perfect ingredient to illustrate the concept of viscosity to kids. Viscosity is the measure of friction in a liquid. This determines how fast or slow a liquid flows when poured. Corn syrup has high viscosity and moves slowly while water has a low viscosity and flows quickly. Corn syrup is also an inexpensive, clear alternative to ingredients like glycerin, honey, or maple syrup. Psst…it can even be used to make DIY paint!
Vinegar has so many uses in science it’s almost impossible to touch on all of them. But here is why vinegar is so versatile: Vinegar is a taste safe, touch safe acid. Acids and bases are a cornerstone of chemistry projects and the acid most of us have on hand in some form at all times is vinegar. For kitchen science experiments I use white distilled vinegar because it is inexpensive and clear (save the balsamic and apple cider vinegar for cooking!). You can buy distilled white vinegar in gallon size jugs.
Other acids you might find in the kitchen are citric acid (lemon juice and Kool-aid), yogurt, molasses, apple sauce, and buttermilk.
Pro-tip: Vinegar is the best substance to use to clean up slime!
4. Baking Soda
If you want to experiment with acids (like vinegar) and bases you need a base, enter baking soda! Baking soda AKA sodium bicarbonate is considered a base, a substance that releases hydroxide ions in aqueous solutions. Bases are often bitter tasting and when they come into contact with acids they can form salts. For an in-depth look at bases hop over here.
Baking soda is utilized in baking because when it reacts with an acid it produces carbon dioxide gas which helps baked good rise and become light and fluffy. Wondering what the acidic ingredient is in baked goods that baking soda reacts with? It’s often brown sugar! That’s a surprise to even me!
I love baking soda so much I actually partnered with Arm and Hammer to do 5 science projects featuring baking soda.
Oil is a lipid, an organic compound that is hydrophobic, meaning it will not dissolve in water. Lipids include fats and waxes. Natural oils are created by plants and animals through metabolic processes so that living organisms can store energy for future use. Here’s a kid-friendly, in-depth look at lipids.
For kitchen science experiments, buy an inexpensive basic cooking oil like canola or vegetable oil. Save your nice olive oils for recipes!
Pro-Tip: Cooking oils can be used to clean and dissolve oil based materials. I’ve used it to clean oil pastels off plastic and beach tar off feet!
In chemistry a salt is a substance created by a chemical reaction between an acid and a base. Sodium chloride AKA table salt is the salt most of us use every day to enhance the flavor of food. Salts have some properties that make it perfect for use in kitchen science experiments: It dissolves in water and can be used to make crystals, it’s a wonderful conductor of electricity, and it can be used to make a super saturated liquid called brine which you can use for a variety of projects. Brine is used for pickling and preserving foods as well as to dissolve ice! Brine is also a favorite substance to use demonstrate buoyancy.
Milk is an emulsion made up of fat and protein in water. An emulsion is an immiscible mixture of two liquids, meaning the materials cannot be blended together. Milk may seem like one substance but on a microscopic level the proteins and fats in it are separated. Because it’s an emulsion, when a substance like soap is introduced the fat molecules in milk are disturbed and move around.
The proteins in milk is called casein and is a polymer, whose properties can be used to turn milk into plastic!
We know that oil and water don’t mix but what if there was a compound that attracted both water and oil? Lucky for the us there is, it’s called soap. Soap molecules have properties of both water and oil, and when you add them to a tub full of dirty dishes the soap molecules attract the fatty oil molecules on the dishes and then suspend that oil in water, helping remove the food from the dish. A simple science experiment would be to try to clean two oily dishes, one in a tub of water only, and one in a tub of soapy water. It will be very apparent how powerful that molecular attraction is! This is a fun article explaining the science at work doing dishes.
Detergent is considered a surfactant, a compound that reduces the surface tension between two liquids or between liquid and a solid. Soap also acts as an inhibitor in chemical reactions, slowing them down.
If you have ever baked bread you have seen (and eaten) a wonderful chemistry project! Baker’s yeast AKA Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a single cell fungi that converts starch and sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol through process called fermentation. Fermentation is responsible for baking bread that rises and making wine! You can read about yeast and the many ways it’s used in baking here. And for all my fellow nerdy adults (and teens) out there check out this fantastic explantation of the chemistry of baking bread!
In kitchen science experiments we typically use yeast to generate carbon dioxide gas which can be harnessed to blow up balloons or create seemingly endless eruptions like Elephant Toothpaste
Last but definitely not least is the ingredient I stock up on every time I go to the restaurant supply store: Cornstarch. Cornstarch is made from the endosperm of corn. It is similar to flour but unlike flour is has been refined to the point that is contains only carbohydrates and no proteins. In cooking it is used to thicken sauces and batter some fried foods.
But the best thing about cornstarch is the substance you get when you add water to it. Cornstarch does not dissolve in water, instead it forms a colloid, a mixture in which a small particles of a substance are suspended throughout another substance but not chemically bonded. For this reason oobleck, AKA gak, goop, or slime (the combination of water + cornstarch) acts as solid when you add pressure to it, and a liquid when it’s left untouched.
If you only had to buy one ingredient and do one kitchen science experiment my top suggestion would be oobleck.
More Kitchen Ingredients for Science Experiments
Once you get started raiding the pantry for science experiment materials you won’t be able to stop! Here are more pantry and kitchen staples that can be used for science projects and some projects to try with them:
Kool Aid contains citric acid which, like lemon juice, and vinegar, reacts with bases to create carbon dioxide. It’s also delicious. Try making a Harry Potter themed chemical reaction you can drink called Amortencia.
There is no cooler colloid to dig your fingers into than gelatin. This wobbly weird substance is impossible not to touch. This project is always a hit with our students!
Everyone loves a science experiment you can eat as dessert…like rock candy!
More Kitchen Science Experiments
Here are a few of our favorite books for more fun science experiments you can do at home: