Yeast and Sugar Experiment

yeast experimentI’ve been baking bread just about every day for the past three weeks (nothing too crazy since it’s all done in the bread maker), but last week my 3.5 year old and I got into a discussion about the properties of yeast.

We like to tinker and  experiment – big surprise, I know — and decided to see what would happen if we mixed yeast with warm water. N took this job very seriously, poured the water into a bowl, added a couple teaspoons of yeast, and waited a few patient minutes before she said, “it makes a brownish color.” True, and to make it bubble like it does in bread, we needed to activate it with sugar.

So we took about fifteen minutes to clear some space and set up what would become the Yeast + Sugar Experiment.

What’s so great about an experiment like this is that it’s easy to do with household materials, and it’s ripe for authentic child-generated questions and observations. When I asked what she thought would happen if we added sugar to the yeast she said, “I don’t know! Let’s mix them and find out!.” And when we finally attached the balloon to the bottle she wondered, “will it fill up all the way and blow off the bottle?”

yeast experimentWhat you’ll need

  • Sugar, 2 tablespoons
  • Active Dry Yeast, 1 packet or 2 1/4 tablespoons
  • Balloon
  • Warm water (105-115 degrees F, 40.5-46 degrees C)
  • Mixing bowl + funnel (we used a cocktail shaker instead)
  • Bottle that you can fit a balloon over

yeast and sugar experimentMix the yeast and sugar into the warm water and stir. I noticed that N was sniffing the concoction and asked her what it smelled like. She said “poop.” I could see what she was saying. Consider yourself warned.

Once it all dissolves, pour the mixture into the bottle and cover the bottle with the balloon.

yeast experimentAfter a few minutes you’ll be amazed by something like this!

yeast experimentN wanted to feel it as it filled with air. She noticed the balloon was getting bigger and wanted to know how big it would get.

yeast experimentMy handy-dandy ship captain sister (no joke — that’s her job!) was visiting, and put herself right to work as chief measurer.

yeast and sugar experimentOnce the bottle filled up completely, we moved the whole operation to the sink. The bubbles were slow-moving, and there was nothing to worry ourselves with, but N enjoyed pulling the balloon off and watching the foam slowly pour over the bottle’s top.

As we went through the process, I thought of a few fun extensions for older kids or those who want to take this further. You could play around with food coloring/liquid watercolors, have a few bottles going at once and compare the results of different sugar:yeast ratios, or compare the results of different water temperatures.

I found my recipe at The Exploratorium’s Science of Cooking series, where we also learned that as the yeast eats the sugar it makes carbon dioxide, which is essentially the same process that yeast goes through in our bread dough.

Mmmmm. I’m off to eat some whole wheat cranberry walnut oat bread. Toasted. With butter and Maldon salt. How do you like your bread? And have you played around with yeast concoctions?

This is shared on It’s Playtime

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Comments

  1. says

    I used to bake a lot of bread with my boys when they were younger (pre-celiac diagnosis) and they always loved my scientific explanation of why the bread rises: the yeast eats the sugar and farts. :) That’s what all the bubbles are, of course!

    • Rachelle says

      Yep, farts would be another not-so-pretty way to describe this process. Between that and my daughter’s description, I’m not sure if anyone will want to try this themselves ;)

    • Rachelle says

      Thanks for sharing your yeast experiments, Amy! I love them, and we have to try this with maple syrup next time (if I can convince my MS-adoring family to part with it first!).

    • Rachelle says

      Hi Kristin, Thank you soooooo much for the kind words about Tinkerlab. And thanks for sharing us with your readers….feel free to send me a link if you’d like and I’ll share it on Facebook.

    • rachelle says

      awesome, lindsie! i’m thrilled to hear it was successful. thanks for taking time to give me this update.

      • Chris says

        Point taken. Out of interest, did you ever find out what made the “poop” smell? In theory it should just produce CO2 which doesn’t smell.

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