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YWCA Youth Get a Taste for Careers in Food Science

By Wennicha Yang, girl’s counselor, Girls Inc. at YWCA Minneapolis
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Last month, Girls Inc. Eureka! held their annual Food Science Workshop. Seven female food scientists volunteered their time to host different Food Science activities for youth to explore. Before starting, the food scientist volunteers and youth played an icebreaker game of Heads Up with the theme of “Food Creations by Scientists.” Each person would pick up a card and their team would give them phrases that would help them guess their card correctly. Everyone had a great time guessing their favorite foods such as ice cream, potato chips, Coca-Cola and cookies – and it got them hyped to learn more about what food scientists do.

Lemon, Vinegar or Water?

At this station, youth tested whether lemon, vinegar or water would best help an apple from browning. Youth made hypotheses first and then went about performing tests, soaking apple slices in separate baths of lemon, vinegar and water for five minutes. Many were not surprised that lemon helped their apple from browning most. When one of the food scientists asked the youth how they knew, one girl mentioned that their mother would squeeze lemon on her apples when making salad. Because of her eye for detail, she learned and was able to predict that lemon would be the best mechanism for the experiment. One of the volunteers explained that because of a lemon’s low, acidic pH levels, it cancels out the browning in apples. The youth also discovered that vinegar was effective in preventing an apple from browning, but not as much as lemon juice. Soaking apples in water was helpful as well, but not as effective as vinegar.

Through this exercise, youth learned that because people eat with their eyes first, it was the job of a food scientist to determine how to best keep an apple from browning over an extended period of time so that people would buy them.

Tasting Without Seeing

People often think that they taste with their mouth first, but they actually eat with their eyes. At this station, youth tasted a variety of sparkling water flavors that were dyed. There were blue, red, green and yellow sparkling water samples. However, the catch was that the flavor did not go along with their color! Youth were challenged to figure out what flavor each sparkling water was based on its taste alone.

While tasting the green drink, many youth predicted lime, claiming that they could taste it even though they knew it probably wasn’t lime. Another young person had a very difficult time deciphering its taste and claimed, “It tastes just like the last one.” When the food scientists at the station revealed that the green sparkling water was actually blueberry, youth were amazed and surprised that they weren’t able to think of that. Remarks of, “No way!” and “What?” went up in the air, surprised at its flavor.

Youth learned that customers were more likely to buy a product if the color of the food aligned with its flavor. If it wasn’t, customers most often didn’t find it as appetizing. It was the job of a food scientist to determine how to make food products not only tasty, but presentable to people so that they could enjoy it with their mouth and eyes.

What’s the Difference? Oreos vs. Reduced Fat Oreos

food science ywca youth

At this station, youth were each given four samples of Oreos and three samples of Cheez-Its, and had to determine which of them was the reduced fat version. Some youth looked at the colors. Some youth took a tiny bite out of each cracker and cookie. Other youth looked at the size and weight of each to see if there was a difference.

Food scientists revealed that when making a reduced fat version of a snack, they do their best to make it healthy while having it appear similar to the original version so that customers would purchase it and find it still as delicious.

Learning about Careers in Food Science

food science volunteers

To wrap up the activity, the food scientist volunteers gathered for a 30-minute panel. Youth asked questions such as, “What level of education did you need to get to where you are?” Many girls were surprised to discover that majority of the women volunteers were in the process of continuing their education, and didn’t stop after attaining their bachelor’s. Some were finishing their master’s program while others were pursuing their Ph.D.’s. Youth were inspired by their passion for education, and began to consider pursuing education beyond their bachelor’s as well. One middle school girl shared, “I didn’t know workplaces could finance you to go to school. I’m going to make sure I work for a company that will help me achieve higher.”

When youth were asked what message they were going to take away from the workshop, one middle school youth shared, “I learned that it’s important to make a hypothesis. It tells you what you first thought was going to happen before it happens. I would’ve forgotten what I initially thought during the apple experiment if I didn’t had it written down first.” Another middle school youth shared, “Food science is fun! I want it to become my hobby.”

Girls Inc. youth had a great day learning about food science and what it means to have a career in food science. Having a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) isn’t limited to engineering, health care or other familiar professions. You can also design the food we eat!

Learn more about YWCA Girls and Youth Programs