ES.287 | Spring 2009 | Undergraduate

Kitchen Chemistry


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session

Required Textbook

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. NewYork, NY: Scribner, 1997. ISBN: 9780684800011.


Welcome to the seminar entitled Kitchen Chemistry. This is a Pass/Fail, 6-unit seminar (2 hours of class and 4 hours of reading and homework per week). This seminar is designed to look at cooking from a scientific basis. Each week we will do an edible experiment and look at the science behind how it all works. Not only will chemical principles be examined, but also biochemical, biological, microbiological, and maybe even a little physics. Students are required to attend at least 80% of the classes.

MIT chemist Patricia Christie discusses her course, “Kitchen Chemistry,” and how it makes students look at their food differently.

This video is from the MITNewsOffice via YouTube, and is not covered under our Creative Commons license.


As a student in this seminar, you are required to participate in at least 80% of the experiments and keep a journal commenting on each experiment: what worked well, what did not work well, ways that the session could be improved for next year. The journal will have to be turned in at the last class in order for you to receive credit for the seminar. It will not be read until the grade sheets have been turned in, so honesty is appreciated. You are also required to hand in the weekly problem sets at the beginning of the next week’s class. You will also be required to write a 2-4 page paper on some aspect of the chemistry of food.

The second to last class (week 13) will be an exercise in peer teaching. Working either alone or in pairs, you will be required to find at least two people to come to class and you will become the teacher. You will teach your fellow students about one of the recipes we did in class or one of your own.


1 Guacamole, salsa, make your own hot sauce, and quesadillas
2 Cookie - death by chocolate
3 Pancakes
4 Bread
5 Scones and coffee
6 Meringue
7 Jams and jellies
8 Three bean chili and corn bread
9 Cheese
10 Molecular gastronomy
11 Wacky cake
12 Ice cream
13 Peer teaching
14 Pasta, meatballs, and crème brulee

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2009
Learning Resource Types
Course Introduction
Written Assignments