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FortWhyte Farms: Science in the Kitchen

Posted on April 14, 2020

The kitchen is a wonderful place to teach your children cooking skills, basic math, and a bit of science. Use this cooking experiment to get your children involved in the baking process, and to help them understand how different ingredients impact the final outcome, when cooking Banana Blueberry Loaf.

Slices of banana blueberry loaf and a glass of milk.

Things to note: You will be making 2 recipes in this section; one recipe with baking powder, and the exact same recipe with baking soda.  We’re doing this to see if the pH difference in the leavening agents (b.p and b.s) will make a difference in how the loaves taste and rise.

Banana bread, chocolate cake, and your birthday party cupcakes come out of the oven way higher than when they started. Why? If you’re not using yeast, there’s a good bet the recipe included baking soda and/or baking powder, two very common leavening agents.


  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda/1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½  cup fresh blueberries 


  • Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Spray cake pan with non-stick spray. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, using an electric or stand mixer with paddle attachment cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • In a small bowl, beat eggs. Add eggs to sugar mixture and beat until combined. Add mashed bananas and mix until combined.
  • Add flour, baking soda or baking powder, and salt to bowl together and combine. Slowly add dry ingredients to banana mixture and mix until flour is just combined. Be careful not to over mix. Fold in blueberries.
  • Pour batter into prepared loaf pans and bake at 350F for 45 minutes, until edges are slightly brown or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Let cool completely before removing from pan.
Women baking with her daughter


Baking soda is just sodium bicarbonate, which is a base. In the presence of moisture, it reacts with acid to produce carbon dioxide, which are the little bubbles you see forming in your batter. The little bubbles trap air inside your batter, causing the batter to become “fluffier”. The bubbles are trapped in there forever! Many times, you will see baking soda used in recipes with buttermilk, which is a very common acid. Have you ever been told not to add the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients until the very end of a recipe? That’s because as soon as the dry and wet ingredients are combined, the chemical reaction between the base (baking soda) and acid (buttermilk) will begin! If you don’t hurry up and start cooking the food, all of that carbon dioxide that you produce will fizzle out. You want to start cooking while all of those little bubbles are trapped inside your batter! 


Baking powder is made with sodium bicarbonate PLUS cream of tarter and cornstarch. Why those 2 additional ingredients? The cream of tarter is a dry acid. The cornstarch keeps any moisture at bay (since moisture is what starts the chemical reaction). Baking powder doesn’t require an acid to work, since it’s all-in-one, and will start to work on it’s own when it comes in contact with moisture. Most baking powder is “double-acting” so it will create carbon dioxide (those little bubbles) immediately after coming into contact with moisture, and again during heating. This longer-lasting reaction usually creates fluffier baked goods than baking soda alone.


So why wouldn’t you just use baking powder? Baking soda has some great side-effects. It will help give your food a nice brownish colour. Also, when combined with an acid, it will create a more effective initial reaction than with baking soda. Just don’t use it without an acid, or your food might taste a bit like metal!