Cookie-making is a favorite part of the winter holidays. This year, we took on a kitchen chemistry challenge: to identify the materials and ingredients involved in the baking process down to the level of some of the elements and molecules. Like marking off a bingo card of letters and numbers, we characterized twenty elements involved.
Our cookie making starts with a stainless-steel bowl made from an alloy of metals including iron (26Fe) with some chromium (24Cr) and nickel (28Ni)*. We measure out our flour made up of carbon (6C), oxygen (8O) and hydrogen (1H) chains. Our glass measuring cup is made mostly of silicon (14Si) with some calcium (20Ca), magnesium (12Mg) and aluminum (13Al) added for strengthening and heat-resistance. (*Note: the number before the element’s symbol is the atomic number = how many protons are in the nucleus.)
The addition of baking soda checks sodium (11Na) off the list. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) – most important to make the cookies fluffy when it reacts and forms carbon dioxide gas bubbles.
Flavor-enhancing table salt adds chloride (17Cl) to our mix. Table salt crystals are also known as sodium chloride (NaCl).
A teaspoon each of nutmeg and cinnamon are organic carbon-hydrogen-oxygen molecules which add that holiday flavor and float into the air when baked as a fragrance of the season.
Our second mixing bowl is made of glazed ceramic. Its origin may include silicon, aluminum and some of the alkali metals – sodium (11Na) and potassium (19K) – and alkaline earth metals – calcium (20Ca) and magnesium (12Mg).
We measure out the sugar (C12H22O11) and then the triglyceride a.k.a. butter which includes a very familiar molecule – H20! Water is trapped in butter’s solid fat matrix.
Then to crack a nutrient-rich egg which adds calcium (20Ca), iron (9Fe), phosphorous (15P), and zinc (30Zn) as well as vitamins and minerals containing nitrogen (7N) and sulfur (16S). Mix it all up with a wooden spoon (long chains of carbon-hydrogen-oxygen atoms).
Seasonal fruit such as persimmon adds potassium (19K). Pumpkin is a source Iron (9Fe), magnesium (12Mg), Phosphorus (15P) and Copper (29Cu). Some nuts contain selenium (34Se) and calcium (20Ca). Add some oats – a great source of manganese (25Mn).
And what would cookies be without chocolate? Theobromine C7H8N4O2 is the chemical formula of this important compound.
Does this simplistic breakdown make the cookies taste better? Yes! But don’t forget to supplement your cookie diet with truly vitamin and protein-rich vegetables and wholesome foods this season. May your 2019 be full of awareness, curiosity, understanding and connection (and even more cookies!) Happy holidays.