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How To Investigate The Energy Content Of Food

How To Investigate The Energy Content Of Food

Don’t burn the cheese puff!

In this short video, Emma Dent demonstrates how to investigate the energy content of food with various food samples, including pasta, shortbread and cheese puffs!

Ideal to showcase various aspects of science, this demonstration shows how foods react, releasing heat energy. Calorimetry measures this heat, tying into energy transformation and chemical reactions.

In biology, food energy links to nutrition and metabolism, teaching how the body uses food for energy through processes like cellular respiration and in physics, it introduces heat energy concepts and practical skills like data analysis.

Overall, it’s a hands-on way to teach interdisciplinary science, helping students grasp core concepts while showing how science topics intersect and apply in the real world.



You will need:

  • Boiling tube
  • Retort stand and clamp
  • Bunsen burner
  • Food samples, e.g. Biscuit, Breadstick, Penne Pasta, Shortbread and Cheese Puff
  • Mounted needle
  • Thermometer
  • Balance (to measure the mass of food samples)
  • Stopwatch or timer
  • Water
  • Table for recording results
  • Safety goggles and gloves (for handling equipment and conducting the experiment safely)



  1. Set up the retort stand and clamp the boiling tube securely.
  2. Measure the food samples using the balance.
  3. Add approximately 20cm3 of water into the boiling tube and record its initial temperature.
  4. Mount the food sample onto the needle.
  5. Ignite the food sample using the Bunsen burner.
  6. Hold the burning food sample under the boiling tube of water, roughly 5cm from the boiling tube, until it is completely burned, relighting if necessary.
  7. Record the final temperature of the water.
  8. Repeat steps 2-6 for each food type to increase reliability.
  9. Record all results in a table.
  10. Calculate the change in temperature caused by the burning food sample for each trial.
  11. Calculate the average change in temperature for each food type.
  12. Calculate the energy released by each food type using the equation: Energy released (J) = mass of water (g) x rise in temperature (°C) x 4.2.

All health and safety measures are the responsibility of the teacher doing the demonstration. A thorough risk assessment should be carried out and guidance procedures followed. It is suggested that you practice before demonstration in front of a class.



In this experiment, a big jump in temperature indicates that the food being tested packs a lot of energy. But there’s a catch! The results we get tend to be lower than the actual energy content of the food. Why? Well, not all of the food might burn completely during the experiment, and some of the energy gets lost to the air and even heats up the glass of the boiling tube. So, while our results give us a good idea, they’re not the whole picture.

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