Thanksgiving Day: We’ve Got You Covered
November 2, 2023

At Thanksgiving time, we’re pretty sure the Fuddlebrook gang, like many of us, will gather round the table for their Thanksgiving feast. To help you prepare your dinner for friends and family we offer some Thanksgiving food science food facts, some lesser known Thanksgiving trivia, and some science entertainment too!

Want your turkey to be nice and golden? The golden brown color and roasted flavor of a turkey are from sugars and proteins reacting together, according to Sara Risch, an expert in food science.  A turkey browns faster when its surface is exposed to dry air. To reduce the amount of browning, limit the amount of sugar and protein — or cover food with foil, which slows down the rate of browning by keeping the air moist.

Perfect gravy? Although both flour and cornstarch owe their thickening powers to starch, cornstarch is pure starch, while flour contains starch plus protein. Protein takes up volume but contributes little to the thickening power of flour. Because of this, you need about twice as much flour as cornstarch to thicken a sauce.

That means flour could be more likely to add an undesirable pasty flavor. While pure starch becomes transparent as it swells with liquid, the protein in flour reflects light, making a sauce look cloudy. Cloudy, velvet-textured gravy can be delicious, but cornstarch is used more often to thicken fruit pie fillings, creating transparency around the fruit.

Healthy pies? Consider filling your holiday pies with fresh berries, which can significantly reduce the buildup of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, a culprit that contributes to heart disease and stroke. According to research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, blackberries have the highest LDL inhibitory effect, followed by red raspberries, sweet cherries, blueberries, and strawberries.

And now for the mashed potatoes. There are more than 200 species of potatoes, but for cooking purposes they can be split into two general categories. The more delicate "floury" or "mealy" potatoes, such as Idaho or russet, have more starch granules in their cells. When heated, they combine with water molecules, and the cells expand and separate, making for fluffier spuds. "Waxy" varieties, such as new potatoes, have cells that stick together and stay firm and dense when cooked. They make a creamier mash.

The fluffy but fragile granules of the floury type of potato are best separated using a food mill or gentle mashing, and their surface area can absorb a good amount of cream, butter, or milk. The waxy type can take more of a beating, and less add-ins. They work best for rough-mashed, country-style potatoes.

So now that dinner is on the table, turn your attention to fun conversation. Watch our video of fun and perhaps lesser known Thanksgiving facts. And for the grand finale? After the table is cleared, hold on to your butter knife and spoon for some science activities that teach friction and Newton’s First Law of Motion. The Fuddlebrook Magic Money Stack from the book, The Sled Race, is our experiment feature this month and provides a lot of entertainment using just nickels and your butter knife. Finally borrow our activity from our sister series The Quirkles, Friction Fred’s Magic Spoon, using a spoon and your nose to demonstrate friction in an unusual way.

So there you have it. Enjoy a great meal, conversation, and a little science too. And from the whole Fuddlebrook gang, Happy Thanksgiving!