The Chemistry of Thanksgiving Food

Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, and food. But did you know that there’s a lot of chemistry behind the dishes we enjoy on this holiday?

Turkey and Osmosis

Turkey is a classic Thanksgiving dish, but it can be tricky to cook perfectly. One way to ensure that your turkey is juicy and flavorful is to brine it. Brining is a process of soaking the turkey in a saltwater solution. 

The salt in the solution draws water into the turkey, which helps to keep it moist.

The science behind osmosis explains why brining works. Osmosis is the movement of water from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. 

When the turkey is placed in the saltwater solution, the water in the solution moves into the turkey, where the concentration of water is lower. This helps to plump up the turkey and make it more juicy.

Baked Goods and CO2

Another common Thanksgiving dish is baked goods. Cakes, cookies, pies, and other baked goods all rely on chemical reactions to rise. 

One of the most important chemical reactions in baking is the reaction between baking soda and acid. When baking soda and acid are mixed together, they release carbon dioxide gas. This gas forms bubbles in the batter or dough, which causes it to rise.

The Maillard Reaction

The Maillard reaction is another important chemical reaction that occurs in food. This reaction happens when amino acids and sugars react together under heat. The result is a browning reaction that gives food its characteristic flavor and aroma.

The Maillard reaction is responsible for the browning of roasted turkey, baked potatoes, and many other Thanksgiving dishes. It’s also responsible for the browning of toast, marshmallows, and other foods that are cooked or toasted.


Gravy is a popular Thanksgiving side dish that is made by cooking meat drippings with flour or cornstarch. The flour or cornstarch thickens the gravy and gives it its characteristic flavor.

The thickening of gravy is a chemical reaction. When flour or cornstarch is added to hot liquid, the starch granules absorb the liquid and swell. This causes the gravy to thicken.

The Science of Thanksgiving Food

These are just a few of the many chemical reactions that occur in Thanksgiving food. The next time you enjoy a Thanksgiving feast, take a moment to appreciate the science that went into making it possible.

How Educators Can Use Chemistry to Teach About Thanksgiving Food

Educators can use the chemistry of Thanksgiving food to teach students about science in a fun and engaging way. Here are a few ideas:

  • Have students brine a turkey and observe how it affects the texture and flavor of the meat.
  • Have students make baked goods and observe how the chemical reactions in the batter or dough cause them to rise.
  • Have students cook food and observe the Maillard reaction.
  • Have students make gravy and observe how the starch thickens the liquid.

By using the chemistry of Thanksgiving food, educators can help students learn about science in a way that is relevant and interesting to them.

About the Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like these