This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

What's Cooking in Geology? Food Analogies and Demonstrations to Connect Geology with Everyday Experiences

By Larry Lemke, Annia Fayon, Cristina de Campos, and Rebecca Boger

Topic: Numerous Connection Areas:
  • Structural Geology
  • Magma Dynamics
  • Viscosity and Volcanic Eruption Style
  • Oil Spills
  • Glacial Motion
  • Plate Tectonics
Course Type:intro upper level


Instructors demonstrate or draw analogies between the behavior of common food items utilized in cooking to illustrate the behavior of Earth materials.


Structural Geology

  • Uncooked linguini noodles are used to demonstrate elastic and brittle deformation.
  • Corn starch and water are mixed and manipulated in students hands to illustrate strain hardening.
  • Diapirism can be illustrated using a jar filled with molasses and cooking oil. The jar is inverted slowly and the density contrast leads to fluid redistribution.

Magma Dynamics

  • Tomato soup is heated to illustrate convection.
  • Double diffusive convection (layering) is demonstrated using hot coffee with cream stirred slowly for a short time in a transparent glass.
  • Fondue is prepared with a blend of cheeses to illustrate melting and temperature dependent mixing.

Viscosity and Volcanic Eruption Style

  • Boiling water and heating tomato sauce (in a covered pot) are contrasted to illustrate differences in viscosity.
  • Baking soda and vinegar are mixed in a 35mm film canister. The canister is capped immediately and held tight. When released, a pyroclastic eruption is simulated. The same demonstration in an uncapped canister can be used to simulate an effusive eruption.
  • The champagne bottle effect is used to illustrate the increase in size of gas bubbles as they rise through the liquid column, analogous to expansion of bubbles due to pressure release in a volcanic conduit.

Oil Spills

  • Cooking oil is poured on top of a bowl of water. Students attempt to remove the oil using a straw or eye dropper (a difficult task). A drop of surfactant (dish soap) is added to disperse the oil.

Plate Tectonics

  • Snack Tectonicsl
  • Pizza slices can be used to illustrate divergent and transform plate boundaries. Pizza slices can also be used to illustrate thrust faulting (nappes).
  • Brie cheese with solid wax and soft interior can be used as an analogy for the lithosphere and asthenosphere.

Glacial Motion

  • The spreading of pancake batter or a mound of mashed potatoes under its own weight is an analogue for the expansion of continental ice sheets that can be used to explain radial map patterns of glacial striations.


Student understanding and retention of the geologic concept will be enhanced.