A course that tickles students' taste buds


Published: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 11:08 p.m.

Teenagers who spent Thursday morning sampling sugary cereals, cookies and sodas before lunch were earning high school credit for refining their taste buds.

The Union County High School students are also getting credit for remembering to refer to a kitchen implement as a potato smasher, not masher, for being able to trace the history of some popular foods, and for being able to differentiate — by smell alone — the difference between wintergreen and peppermint flavorings. Lessons on vocabulary, taste and fragrance are all a part of Florida's first approved food science course.

"In agricultural education, we had always emphasized the perspective of the producer, but this class lets us look at food from a consumer's point of view," said Shannon Washburn, an assistant professor of agricultural education at the University of Florida who helped develop the course. "This is a class that will appeal to 100 percent of a high school population."

The yearlong course being taught for the first time this year in Union County drew 15 students, according to Tom Williams, a nationally certified agriculture teacher who also helped develop the course and is now teaching it. He said although students had many different reasons for signing up for the class, he expects they will all become better consumers by the end of the year.

"If you are a consumer, you want to know if you should spend more money for the brand-name cereal or if you should buy the unadvertised cereal," Williams said. "If you are a manufacturer (of generic cereal), you will want to spend your money on research and product development to make yours taste as close as possible to the advertised brand."

To help students learn to compare food products, Williams set out three unmarked samples of three types of products Thursday.

On one table, each student received two regular vanilla wafer cookies and a third that was made with 60 percent less fat. At another table, tiny cups were filled with cereal, one with brand-name Fruit Loops and two others with an unadvertised brand. The third table was covered in sets of three miniature paper cups — two with Coca-Cola and one with Pepsi. At the end of the class period, only four of the 12 students participating were able to correctly identify which cookie was the low-fat one, which cereal was the brand-name one and which cup contained Pepsi.

Williams said his goal was to get students to learn to look, smell, touch and taste food to become more savvy consumers.

The course involves lectures, research and hands-on activities.

Earlier in the school year, when the class studied food origins, senior Maegen Crocket was assigned wheat. She researched how it is grown, harvested, processed and used.

"Then we each had to make something, so we made calzones for the class," Crockett said.

Some of the students said they enrolled in the class to learn more about cooking in a high school that has not offered a home economics program in a decade. In addition to learning about food preparation and safety, Williams has also incorporated lessons on careers in food science.

"I was already considering dental hygiene or something like that but now I am thinking about dietetics," said senior Marcia Williams.

Williams said he expects other high schools will likely add a food science course to their agricultural offerings and he is already working on a second-level class for students who complete the first course.

"You can draw a crowd with something to eat and everybody is interested when food is involved," Williams said.

Karen Voyles can be reached at 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun. com

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