Breakfast Science

Science is everywhere! But have you ever wondered, what actual scientific processes go on behind the scenes of everyday life?

This morning I endeavored to find out the scientific processes that went into making my breakfast. Little did I know, that my day was about to become a whole lot more complicated!

Image source: Brad Lauster, via Flickr

The science behind making toast

It doesn’t seem like an overly complicated process does it?. You put bread in the toaster, it cooks, and emerges a nice golden-brown crunchy piece of toast, right? Well, sort of …

When bread first enters the toaster and is exposed to heat, it undergoes evaporation, a physical reaction turning liquid water molecules into gas water molecules. After sufficient evaporation has occurred, the bread then undergoes a series of complex chemical reactions known as the Maillard reaction, named after the scientist who discovered it, Louis – Camille Maillard.

The Maillard reaction occurs in three ‘ridiculously complicated’ stages, involving complex chemical reactions between the reducing sugars (carbonyl groups) of starch carbohydrates, and the amino-acids (amine groups) of gluten proteins. Starch and gluten of course, being the two primary constituents of bread flour.

Or, as I’d prefer to think of it, the Maillard reaction is ‘the non-enzymatic browning of particular foods’, with ‘foods’ in this case, referring to my toast.

Image source: counterculturecoffee, via flickr

So, what I have always thought of as just ‘cooking my toast to different degrees of brown-ness’ or ‘burning my toast’, is actually a much more complicated process.

But what about my bacon and eggs? …

The science behind cooking with gas

Obviously, cooking requires heat. And because it would be highly impractical to light a fire in the middle of my kitchen, luckily, I have a gas stove.

 Image source: stevepb,via pixabay

Natural Gas is a colourless and odourless mixture of gasses, predominantly made up of methane. Methane is a hydrocarbon consisting of 1 carbon atom and 4 hydrogen atoms, and is chemically known as CH4.

The chemical reaction that occurred when I lit my stove this morning was combustion, easily recognizable by the blue-burning gas flame. During combustion, bonds between the carbon and hydrogen atoms of methane are broken down, leaving these elements free to form new bonds with oxygen in the air, producing carbon dioxide and water. Because the combustion reaction is exothermic, it also produces lots of heat, allowing me to cook my bacon and eggs!

But, what is breakfast without a nice hot beverage? Time to boil the kettle …

The Science Behind Boiling Water

To my relief, there are no complex chemical reactions involved in boiling water! Just a nice physical vaporization reaction, as the water changes state from a liquid to a gas, but not chemical composition.

Image source: josch13, via pixabay

Water is a very stable molecule consisting of 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom covalently bonded together to form the familiar chemical formula, H2O.

When you fill up your kettle you are seeing the water molecules in their liquid state, with the molecules packed tightly together and only moving around each other in small, random motions. However, after you turn the kettle on and the water temperature begins to increase, so too does the motion of the water molecules.

Eventually the molecular motion becomes so intense that the relatively weak hydrogen bonds holding the water molecules together are disrupted. The molecules then disperse and as they get further away from each other they form water vapor, recognised by us as the bubbles of boiling water. Water generally reaches this phase, more technically referred to as boiling point, at around 100°C.

Video source: Wayne Breslyn, via YouTube

Breakfast is served!


6 Responses to “Breakfast Science”

  1. Bree Iredale says:

    Thanks Evie 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I hope your cuppa was amazing!

  2. Evie Kielnhofer says:

    Great work Bree! – I was hooked this morning as soon as I read the title! 🙂 I like your choice to tackle ‘everyday science’ as it makes it all the more interesting and worthy of sharing at the dinner table. I’m ready to go off now to initiate a ‘physical vaporization reaction’ to make my next cuppa! 😛

  3. Bree Iredale says:

    Thank you 🙂 Who knew making toast was so complicated, haha!

  4. scripps says:

    Great blog! Making toast suddenly became super exciting. Also nice work communicating fairly complicated chemistry in an clear, simple way.

  5. Bree Iredale says:

    Thank you for your kind comment jordii! 🙂

  6. jordii says:

    What an awesome idea! Getting people to see how science is involved in your everyday life. I particularly liked the part about the toast being referred to as a non-enzymatic reaction browning of food. haha.