Guarini Student, Tamar Basiashvili, Cooks up Chemistry in the Kitchen

With the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, many of us turned to the kitchen – some of us because we couldn't keep away from the fridge as we worked from home, and others because the increase in time at home meant we could experiment with baking and cooking where previously we hadn't the time.

A popular pandemic pastime was bread baking, and local bakery and supplier King Arthur Flour noted a 268% increase in flour sales, social media was peppered with photos as budding bakers showed of their crusty loaves, and tips were shared for the best way to feed a sourdough starter. 

It turns out bread is not the only kitchen activity where science plays a role – in fact, science is key to everything we cook. From simple adding generous tablespoons of salt to water for boiling pasta (it seasons from the inside as it cooks) to more complicated dynamics of feeding yeast for sourdough (it is complicated). 

Guarini Chemistry graduate student Tamar Basiashvili has been documenting the science in cooking since she was an undergrad at San Diego State University in Georgia and, along with her classmate Ani Shalamberidze, created the STEM Cookbook.

"My classmate and I wanted to create something that would make science fun and enjoyable that would let us share our love and excitement for scientific exploration with bigger audiences - especially young students," says Basiashvili.

Working with support from SDSU-G women empowerment club, and later with funding from the US Department of state, a collaboration of illustrators, designers, web developers, science content creators and community volunteers created the STEM Cookbook. The resulting book of fifty illustrated recipes with parallel chemistry explanations was published in Georgian and distributed to school libraries in Georgia with workshops and presentations delivered to children living in rural areas. 

"Currently, we have over 50 recipes and experiments on our webpage including a recipe from NASA astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper - who shared with us her strawberry jam recipe," notes Basiashvili. 

New recipes are added each quarter to the website and contributions are welcome. So if you know the ins-and-outs of sourdough starters, or any other recipe that applies chemistry or scientific principles to cooking, Basiashvili encourages you to be in touch.

"We welcome recipe contributions especially those that diversify science content. If we find recipes well fitted with our science content, we work closely with the authors on developing the articles and creating illustrations," she says.  

For more information, visit the STEM Cookbook website or reach out directly to Basiashvili.