BOOMbox at Home: Substitutions and Alternatives

Science of Substitution

Many delicious baked goods contain ingredients like flour and eggs that may not be safe for some people with dietary restrictions. Luckily, with science, we can adapt these recipes. To modify a recipe, we need to understand the chemistry of what each ingredient does. For example, eggs can serve three major purposes: binding (holding everything together), leavening (making things rise), and thickening. Each is really important to the structural integrity of dishes that contain eggs.

Unlike something like nuts that you can just leave out or swap with whatever you like, if you don’t account for eggs, your food will come out wrong. It’s not easy to find a single substitute that can do all three things, but, if you understand the purpose of the egg in your recipe, you can make a smart swap. See some of the effects of different egg substitutes in baking. Or, for a shockingly effective simple option, try making a 2-ingredient soda cake! This cake lets you explore both textural changes and flavor options. While enjoying your tasty treats, consider reading more about egg-free baking or the science of popular meat substitutes.

Synthetic vs Natural

Artificial and synthetic alternatives are everywhere, from food to clothes. There are lots of reasons to use synthetic alternatives: production costs, durability, health effects, and availability are just a few. Sometimes, synthetic products can be extremely similar to their natural counterparts. Other times,  the differences are easy to spot.

Get a taste of the differences between artificial and natural flavors with a sweetener taste test. Round up a variety of products that use different types of sweetener. Some options you may want to try: sugar, aspartame (like in Equal), stevia, real maple syrup, pancake syrup, honey, honey flavoring, agave, fresh juice, juice from concentrate, regular soda, diet soda. Have a family member prepare samples of each product for you. Without knowing which you’re trying, taste and rate each one.

After you’ve tried them all, have your family tell you what each sample was. What differences did you notice? What were your favorites? See if you can determine why one option would be used over another.

Secret Ingredient Scavenger Hunt

What foods come to mind when you think about sugar? Soda, candy, cookies? What about soup, salad dressing, and tomato sauce? You may be surprised by how many different foods contain sugar! There are many types of sugar with different names. In addition to the different types of sweetener you tried in the taste test, you may also see sugar listed on ingredient labels as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, maltose, rice syrup, or dozens of other names.

Another ingredient that’s more common than you may expect is corn, which may be listed as corn flour, corn meal, corn flakes, cornstarch, corn oil, shortening, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrins, maltodextrins, dextrose, or ethanol. As you may have noticed, some names are on both lists. These are sugars that can be derived from corn. Go through your home and see how many products you can find that include at least one of these ingredients. Where were you surprised to find them? Are there any places where you were surprised not to find them? Learn more about why corn is everywhere.

Saving the Planet

As more people become aware of the dangers of climate change and pollution, there has been increased interest in making eco-friendly swaps in our daily routines. Some swaps are simple and straightforward, others more complicated. Sometimes the most effective and efficient option depends on your personal circumstances. For example, did you know that cloth bags may not always be the best choice

Or consider the use of straws. We know that straws can pose a threat to marine life, so skipping the straw when you can is certainly smart. But what if you can’t? Make a list of criteria you think might be important for someone who needs to use a straw. Some factors to consider are price, ease of cleaning, and versatility. Grade the different types of straws you’ve used before based on the criteria you came up with, and compare your results with this chart from disability rights advocates. Were there criteria you thought about that aren’t in the table, or any criteria from the table you didn’t think of?

Your carbon footprint is a measurement of the greenhouse gases produced through your actions. To better understand how you and your family affect the environment, try a carbon calculator to estimate your carbon footprint. Can you think of other resources you use, or other waste you create? For the next week, pay extra attention to things you throw away. Based on this information, think of 3-5 things you could do to be more eco-friendly, whether that’s by making substitutions or by changing your habits. Make sure the ideas you choose work for your life and needs.

You might want to try turning off the water while you brush your teeth, drying your clothes on a drying rack rather than using the machine, upcycling leftover boxes or cans, repairing or repurposing old clothing, and having vegetarian or vegan meals one day a week. 

Ingredient of the Week

Black beans are a staff favorite. They are versatile and can be used in meals at all times of the day, including dessert. Yes, we said dessert! Here’s a black bean brownie recipe to try at home. Tag @skokielibrary if you make this dessert at home, and share your thoughts.

Person of the Week

Rock Evans is a science educator working with Plant Chicago, a nonprofit focused on promoting circular economies and sustainability. Prior to becoming education manager at Plant Chicago, Evans earned a masters in Marine Affairs and Policy at the University of Miami and was involved in shark conservation and research, aquaponics, and aquaculture. In all of this work, Evans has placed an emphasis on outreach and community engagement.

Written by Eli and Michelle.