I’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?”
- Sugar, 2 tablespoons
- Active Dry Yeast, 1 packet or 2 1/4 tablespoons
- 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
Mix 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.
Once 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
Is this your first time here? Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter here.