Mix It Up! Food Scientist
In this lesson, students will model the responsibilities of a food scientist by working in product development teams to create a new food product. Tasks will involve market analysis, economics, food chemistry and safety, graphic design, and communication.
For the teacher:
For the students:
- Product Development Team Handouts
- One base ingredient for trail mix such as cereals, nuts, pretzels, etc. Beware of food allergies when selecting ingredients.
- Small paper cups for taste testing
- Plastic spoons
- Waterproof markers
- Kitchen scale
- Internet access
- Taste Test Guidelines handout
Provide by groups based on interest:
- Crackers, cereals, nuts, spices, chocolate, dried fruit, pretzels, etc
- Resealable plastic bags or containers
- Sterilized measuring cups, spoons, mixing bowls
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
aroma: the smell or odor of something. For example, the aroma of fresh baked cookies.
texture: the texture of food describes how it feels in the mouth. For example: crunchy, chewy, soggy, creamy.
Background Agricultural Connections
This lesson is one out of four lessons designed for grades six through eight which promote the development of STEM abilities and critical thinking skills, while fostering an appreciation for the people involved in food production. The new curriculum includes inquiry-based labs, real life challenges for students to investigate and opportunities to plan and construct products and shipping models. Other lessons in this series include:
- Mix it Up! Food Scientist
- Cruisin' for a Bruisin' Food Packaging Specialist
- Food Safety Sleuths: Food Safety Specialist
Food scientists study the physical characteristics, microbiology, and chemistry of the food we eat every day in order to develop and improve methods for preservation, quality control, nutrition, safety, sustainability, and convenience. Food scientists work in teams with colleagues who specialize in specific areas such as research, packaging, nutrition analysis, product safety, clinical trials, world hunger challenges, and more. Many opportunities exist for careers in food science. Even Disney and NASA employ food scientists!
Government organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration work with food scientists to ensure that food on grocery store shelves meets health codes and is safe to eat. Strict protocols are enforced for food testing, manufacturing, transportation, storage, and expiration dates.
The demand for food scientists is increasing in response to the challenge of providing safe, nutritious, and flavorful food for the world’s growing population. Many colleges offer food science programs that include courses in life science and physical science, food law, food microbiology, food processing and nutrition, foreign languages, communications, and more.
Interest Approach - Engagement
- Bring an item to class, such as a box of cereal or sports drink and ask students for ideas on how an item like this can transform from an idea to a selection on our grocery store shelves. Is there a career area that develops new food products, determines the nutritional value of food, and identifies what consumers need and want for food products? Yes! It is the job of a Food Scientist.
- In this lesson, students will:
- Create and refine a recipe for a new food product.
- Calculate the rates of profit for a new food product.
- Learn how to identify the needs and desires of consumers.
- Learn how to determine the nutritional value of recipes.
- Introduce students to a day in the life of a food scientist by viewing a few of the videos found on the Institute of Food Technologists website. Begin by viewing the link, What is Food Science & Technology? Follow up by viewing videos from the YouTube playlist Day In The Life of a Food Scientist.
- Another exciting example of developments in food science comes from a food scientist named Elizabeth Fenner who used micro- encapsulation to create a “flavor release” ice cream that starts out as vanilla at first taste then transforms into cherry before you swallow it. A short video clip may be viewed on online, “The Next Generation of Ice Cream: One Bite, Two Flavors.”
- Tell students that, in this lesson they will act as food scientists working on a product development team to create a winning new trail mix. Each team member will specialize in a certain area such as marketing, food chemistry, graphic design, and cost analysis. Encourage students to feature crops from your home state in their recipes. At the end of the assignment teams will present their products to the class, and will finally eat their science experiments!
- Organize students into teams of four and distribute the Product Development Team handouts. As a class, discuss the details of each task and the importance of communication between team members to meet the overall goal of creating a successful new product. Display the Project Grading Rubric for the class to see and discuss. Instruct any students with food allergies to notify the teacher of specific restrictions. Students in each team should share task responsibilities in order to provide all students with an opportunity to experience different aspects of product development.
- Provide one class period for students to conduct research and design their plan of action. Before the end of class, the teacher should receive and approve an outline from each team showing a written timeline of steps to complete the project on time.
- For homework, each team should conduct a survey to identify favorite trail mix ingredients amongst their target audience. As a class, decide upon the appropriate number of people to survey. Teams may conduct the survey through social media, paper and pencil, or other appropriate methods.
- After the survey results are in, each team should gather the preferred ingredients and tools they will need to prepare three slightly different versions of the trail mix recipe and carry out a taste test the next day in class.
- Prior to any food preparation, ensure that cooking areas, utensils, and cookware are sanitized and that students have washed their hands. Perishable food items should be properly stored in refrigerators.
- Instruct teams to prepare 1⁄4 cup each of three slightly different trail mix variations for their initial team taste tests. Students should follow the taste test instructions provided on the Taste Test Guidelines handout. The trail mix recipe that receives the highest score in the team taste test will be used to develop the team's final trail mix recipe.
- After establishing their final trail mix recipe, each team should complete all steps of production listed in the job descriptions for the product development team. Each team should produce one cup of their packaged trail mix product.
- As a culmination, product development teams will present their product to the class by using a skit, video, radio broadcast, or other multimedia method.
- Hold a taste-test party for students to sample trail mix recipes developed by other teams.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Food scientists work in many areas of food processing. They develop new food products, improve methods of food preservation, and study the nutrition and safety of foods.
- Food scientists help create and evaluate food labels to determine the nutritional content of food.
- Food scientists along with farmers and other professionals assist in establishing a healthy food supply.
- Allow students to create other products besides trail mix. Examples include dips, cookies, spreads, jams, etc.
- Instruct students to conduct their taste test with a larger sample of people from their selected target group.
- If a school kitchen is available, ice cream flavor product development offers many exciting possibilities.
- Place ELL students in groups with students who are proficient in English.
- Instruct teams to create Spanish, or other language versions of labels and advertisements.
Include a requirement for teams to devise a QR code that links to a Web page ad for their product.
Have students research colleges that offer food science programs and summarize the different pathways of study and job opportunities.
This unit was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Secondary Agriculture Education Challenge Grants Program.
Executive Director: Judy Culbertson
Illustrator: Toni Smith
Layout and Design: Nina Danner and Renee Thompson
Copy Editor: Leah Rosasco
Suggested Companion Resources
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