Sunday, March 01, 2009

Science Fair Fun

Third, fourth and fifth graders in my daughter's school are required to do "proper" science projects. Most anyone who has kids knows what this really means. It's code-speak for "Parents, get ready to stress out!"

My inlaws have some great pictures of my husband at Penguin's age. He's sitting at a table, looking increasingly bored as the montage continues. His dad is sitting beside him, fiddling with wires and screws while his big brother occasionally takes part.

We've decided not to let the same thing happen in our house.

That doesn't mean that science fair is easy. In fact, it might be even harder when I can't just take care of some part of the project that needs to get done...I have to walk Penguin through it while her sister whines that it just isn't fair. But, it gets done (Whether it gets done "right" or "well" or "the way I'd have done it" is a different story. I'm learning to let go of my image of right, and let her do it her way. If nothing else, at least the judges can tell it was obviously done by a kid.)

Anyways, she chose an interesting subject this year. One that I was eager to help participate in. She wanted to do something that would help tie in food allergies; although obviously food allergies are not exactly a scientific experiment a young girl can design. She settled on recreating a project that was referenced on Delphi's Celiac Disease Support group about a year ago. In that project, high school students borrowed colanders and such from gluten eaters and tested them for the presence of starch using iodine.

We didn't want to collect colanders. We also didn't want gluten in the house. Our final design involved using wooden spoons to make rice (although rice does not contain gluten, it's a starchy grain. The starch would show up if present. If the spoons are holding grains, they'll hold flour. And flour has starch AND gluten.) She settled on the unpretentious question "Is there a way to wash all the starch off of a spoon?" She tested by making rice (Er, having Mom make rice and then stir it thoroughly with a spoon) Testing the spoon as a "control". Yep, it was starchy. She rinsed all the rice off the spoon. Still starchy, which surprised her a little.

The big one was the final test of washing it with soap and water. To our surprise, there was still small amounts of starchy purple flecks floating around in the water. No matter how well we washed the spoon, we still could find bits of starch in that water. This means that nutritionists and those crazy, zealous gluten haters are right...you do, indeed, need to dispose of your old glutened wooden spoons after going gluten free. Starch remains, and where there are bits of flour (starch) there is gluten (protein).

Intriguingly, the prior experiment that this was based on showed that items like colanders could be cleaned thoroughly enough for there to be no remaining starch. It makes use wonder if one of the experiments was done incorrectly (we did find that it was easier to see results when we stirred the water and transferred 2 TBS to a small, clear bowl before adding iodine. This necessitated less iodine to see starch in the control.) Or if wooden utensils just had more big pores for starch to hide out in. Obviously...as a kitchen test done by a 10 year old with a sketchy (at best) understanding of what she was doing, the experiment bears repeating again and again. But, she did prove that there's good reason to investigate the issue. And that the zealots have merit.

Just for fun we tested some clean spoons from other kitchens, and they had bits of purply starch in them, too.

I really think this could apply across the board to other allergies as well...can nut protein hide out in wood? Dairy? Obviously, I won't use my spoon to cook for my friend's rice-allergic son. But I will still use it for safe recipes...after all, studies show that germs just don't live as long on wood as they do on plastic. And I'd rather have flecks of old rice that germs!

1 comment:

Noe said...

Metal is the best bet. Not only is it non-porous, but if you know someone with access to an autoclave *cough-cough* it can be sterilized. Wood and plastic suck, anyone who doubts the porous nature of plastic need only stick their nose inside my diaper pail... after I've bleached it and let it air out for a day. Scientific proof that the Jews have the right idea come Passover... special dishes really are necessary. I didn't know that plastic was more porous than wood though... useful information that is!

I hated the science fair when I was in school. My folks worked and never helped me. *fumes*