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We’re always told not to play with our food but sometimes it’s tricky not to! Here are some interesting investigations on food and our sense of taste.

Everything tastes the same!

Investigate how your senses of smell, taste and sight work together to help you enjoy your food. Get a few different fruits or vegetables such as carrot, apple, potato, turnip, parsnip or pear. Either grate or chop them into small pieces (all about the same size). Now get a volunteer to close their eyes and hold their nose while you feed them a little of each. Can they work out which is which? They probably can’t as you need all of your senses for your brain to identify a food. You could try different foods or different people (are adults or children better at this?). Apparently even strong-tasting foods such as garlic don’t taste any different from a potato if you hold your nose but I’ve never been brave enough to try! You could try chewing a small piece of raw potato while sniffing a piece of apple, does it start to taste of apple?

Multi-coloured celery

A boring old piece of celery can teach you lots about how plants work. Plants do not have veins and blood like us but they do have a system to move things around. They have special tubes called xylem vessels to carry water up from their roots to their leaves. You can see this in action if you put a stick of celery in a glass of coloured water (use food colouring). After a couple of hours you will see the colour has moved up the stem. If you cut across it, you will be able to see the xylem vessels clearly. You could try splitting the base of the celery stick and putting each half in a different colour do the colours mix or stay on their own sides? Try looking at other veg when you’re eating, can you see the xylem vessels in a carrot or lettuce?


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You will need: an old CD or DVD (check before you steal your mum’s favourite Take That album!), a sports-bottle cap (Fruit Shoot or similar), a balloon, Blu-tack.

Roll the Blu-tack into a sausage and use it to attach the cap the centre of the CD. Make sure the cap is closed. Inflate the balloon but don’t knot it, then carefully stretch the opening over the bottle cap (it helps if you twist the end of the balloon to stop it deflating while you’re doing this). Your hovercraft is now ready to go! Carefully open the cap and the air will start to escape from the balloon. This makes a ‘cushion’ of air under the CD so you should be able to skim it along a smooth surface (the floor is best). Why not decorate your hovercraft and race it against your friends?

 

Think like a scientist:

  • Try skimming it without the balloon (or with the cap closed), what do you notice?
  • The cushion of air reduces friction between the CD and the floor, can you find out more about friction?
  • Does the size of the balloon make a difference?

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What happens when you poke a balloon with a sharp stick? Expecting it to go bang? Try out this impressive science trick to skewer a balloon without popping it (hopefully!).

You will need: balloons, bamboo skewers, vegetable oil.

First, inflate the balloon about half-way and tie a knot. Next, dip your skewer in oil to make it easier to push into the balloon. Now for the important part, choosing where to stick the skewer: look carefully at the balloon and you’ll notice that the area close to the knot is a little darker than the rest of the balloon, that’s because the rubber isn’t stretched as much. This means that if you make the hole there you might manage to avoid the ‘pop’. At the other end, there is another darker area, carefully push the skewer out at that point and you have a balloon kebab!

Note for parents: take care with sharp points and this should only be attempted under supervision. A cheap pair of safety goggles from a DIY store could come in handy.


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This is one of my personal favourites. Using the ideas of density in liquids from the gloopy floating and sinking experiment, you can make liquids float on top of each other. You need a glass or clear plastic beaker. First, pour about 1cm of golden syrup in the bottom (this is easiest if you buy the syrup in a squeezy bottle). Try to avoid getting any on the sides of the glass. Next, carefully pour washing up liquid on top (try to pour it very slowly down the side of the glass). Do the same with some water, even slower this time (I like to add a little food colouring to make it prettier). Finally pour vegetable oil slowly onto the top, it’s easier if you run it over the back of a spoon. Hey presto, you’ve made a liquid rainbow, isn’t it pretty?

Think like a scientist:

  • What happens if you carefully pour water on top of your rainbow? (watch from the side)
  • Can you experiment with other liquids?
  • You can make your own liquids of different densities by adding different amount of salt to water.

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Simply fill a small white plate with water (a few millimetres deep) and place a selection of Skittles or M&Ms around the edge. Keep it very still and watch as the colours travel across the plate. What do you think will happen when the colours meet? You might expect them to mix but you’ll probably find that you get perfectly neat lines instead! This is because the sugar and colouring that is dissolving from the surface of the sweet is spreading out by a process called diffusion. The sugar will move from where there is lots of sugar to places where there is less. When it meets more colour and sugar coming the other way, there’s no point going any further!


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You can make your own colour-changing potion just using vegetables! You will need a grown-up to do the cooking bit.

Making the potion:
Roughly chop half a red cabbage and boil in just enough water to cover it for around 10 minutes. The water should turn dark blue. Keep the water and put the drained cabbage to one side. Leave it to cool.

Doing the experiment: You need some beakers (see-through ones are best). Put about 100ml of water in each one and add 2 tablespoons of the blue potion. Now get experimenting! Try adding different things to see if you can make the liquid change colour, you’ll need to give them a stir. Things you could try: vinegar, lemon juice, milk, liquid hand soap, toothpaste, bicarbonate of soda, washing powder… anything else that you can find (check it’s safe!). Try it again using beetroot instead of cabbage, do you get the same results?

Think like a scientist:

  • Try to guess what colour each one will go before you do it.
  • Can you change the colour back if add something else?
  • Have a look at the cabbage, what colour is it? Would you want to eat it? How could you make cabbage stay red when it’s cooking? (look up red cabbage recipes for the answer!)
  • The colours change because the things that you are testing are called acids and alkalis. Acids turn the liquid red or pink, alkalis make it go blue or purple. Can you find out about them in books or online?