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Testing Foods for Organic Compounds

Today, I'd like to tell you about one of my favorite labs.  It is definitely "an oldie, but goodie" lab!  There is nothing new, innovative, or earth-shattering about this lab.  The idea has been around for as long as I have, and this is my 28th year in the classroom!  My students always love this lab, and they often comment and share their surprise with me over the results they obtain.

The most common organic compounds found in living organisms are the proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates and lipids.  The foods we consume are often a combination of these organic compounds. Since, being omnivores, we consume plants as well as animals who ate plants, our foods contain a variety of different compounds.

It is very simple in a middle or high school lab to test some foods for the presence of the various organic compounds.  Through the use of "indicators" students are able to determine if a particular food contains proteins, starches, fats, simple sugars, and vitamin C.  Indicators are chemical substances that change colors  to indicate the presence of a particular compound.  Although not an organic compound, I often have students test for the presence of salt.

How is the student benefited from doing this lab?

  • Number 1:  It is just FUN!  If for no other reason, it is a great lab to do near the beginning of the school year because kids like it.  They get excited about science, your class, and the prospect of spending a year in your class doing great labs.
  • It reinforces the concepts you have been teaching in your classroom.  If you are doing this lab, then undoubtably, you have been teaching about the macromolecules in your biology or life science class.  Students need to see the practical application of the "facts" you teach in the classroom.
  • Students learn good lab technique.
  • Students learn that a particular food they thought was "healthy" is really nothing more than sugar and salt.
  • Working through the various lab procedures teaches a student to read and follow directions accurately.
  • Critical thinking skills are reinforced.
The lab that I have described here can most certainly be found in any biology lab manual.  If you are interested in the lab that I do with my students, here is the link.

If you are just beginning to organize your unit on biochemistry, you might be interested in this product:

Happy Teaching Everyone!!

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