It’s not surprising that kids love Star Wars. There are strange and exotic planets, starships, and monsters. There are heroic Jedi knights battling the evil Empire's stormtroopers in a galaxy far, far away. Much nearer though, here on Earth, you and your kids can still enjoy the world of Star Wars ... using science (and some agar and Jell-O) to create a Star Wars-inspired, edible experiment.
Agar is a gelatin-like substance called a colloid, extracted from the cell walls of red algae. Often used in cooking, it shows up in science labs as well, where it’s used to separate DNA by size and grow microorganisms, like bacteria. (Your kids will think that’s cool.)
It has a higher melting temperature than the gelatin used to make Jell-O. So, if you put a chunk of agar gel into melted Jell-O, it won't melt unless the Jell-O is really, really hot (about 150°F or 65°C!) That means you can create works of agar art, like Star Wars figures, to embed in your favorite Jell-O. For this experiment, we add coconut milk to the agar to make it white, and sugar to make it taste good.
As you prepare the agar and Jell-O, ask your kids what they think will happen when you add the agar/coconut milk mixture to the cold oil, and whether the Star Wars figures will float or sink in the Jell-O. Tell them that their guess is called their hypothesis.
- Star Wars themed silicone molds or cookie cutters (available online and in stores)
- Several large packs of Jell-O (Purple or blue gelatin make a good “space” background for Star Wars Figures, but be creative!)
- Agar flakes (often available in the Asian food section of grocery stores and online)
- Can of coconut milk (full-fat)
- Vegetable oil (for making white orbs)
Begin by making the agar/coconut milk mixture and pouring it into molds to create Star Wars designs. Alternately, you can pour it into a pan so it's half an inch thick, and use cookie cutters to cut out designs. The agar/coconut milk mixture can also be used to make small white orbs, which are a fun addition to any Jell-O masterpiece*.
Always supervise kids around hot liquids, but once things have cooled down a bit, be sure to let them take over! They’ll especially enjoy dripping the agar/coconut milk mixture through cold oil to make orbs (a technique called oil-spherification, often used by chefs).
*If you want to make white orbs from the agar/coconut milk mixture, chill a tall jar or glass filled with vegetable oil in the freezer until it is thick and almost frozen. You'll also need some squeeze bottles or clean eyedroppers.
Coconut Milk Agar
To create your white decorations and mini orbs, mix up this coconut milk/agar dessert:
- In a sauce pan or microwave oven, heat 4 Tbs. agar in 2 1/2 cups water until the agar is completely dissolved. Adult supervision required.
- Stir up the coconut milk to incorporate the fat. Add 1 cup coconut milk and 4 Tbs. sugar to the agar mixture. Mix well.
- Pour coconut milk/agar mixture into silicone molds. (Reserve some if you’re making white orbs.) Alternately, pour the mixture into a pan and cut shapes out with cookie cutters when it has hardened.
- When the figures have hardened, gently remove them from the molds. If an agar figure breaks, you can fill in the cracks with more melted coconut milk/agar.
Coconut Milk Orbs
These are a fun addition to your Jell-O design.
Slowly drip melted coconut milk agar (see above) through ice-cold vegetable oil. As it falls through the oil, it will harden and form orbs. Let them cool for a minute or two in the oil, and collect them with a slotted spoon. Rinse before adding to your Jell-O.
When your Star Wars figures and orbs are ready, you can make the Jell-O a backdrop for your Star Wars dessert!
Follow the directions on the package for the speed set method. If you make a double batch, pour half of it into the bottom of a large, glass casserole dish or bowl. If it's a single batch, pour the whole thing in.
If you made coconut milk orbs, put some in the melted Jell-O. Do they float or sink? For the Star Wars figurines and molds, let the Jell-O solidify and arrange your agar decorations on the Jell-O.
Or make more Jell-O, or re-melt the other half of your double batch. When it's cooled down a little, pour it over your decorations to trap them in the Jell-O. You may want to leave them sticking out, or cover them completely with Jell-O over them for effect.
When the Jell-O is cool and jiggly, eat your experiment. And may the force be with you!
You can find more experiments like this one at kitchenpantryscientist.com, and in my books Kitchen Science Lab for Kids (Quarry Books), and Outdoor Science Lab for Kids (Quarry Books).
© Quarry Books, 2016
Featured Photos Credit: © Amber Procaccini