Inside: learn the science of butter making while getting a yummy snack ready. This butter science experiment is good enough to eat.
Try this fun learning activity in your kitchen today. Just pick up a carton of heavy whipping cream on your way home, and you are all set to go.
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We’ve been doing this activity for many years, usually on Butter Day (November 17th) or whenever we read Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book with kids. However, even though it just looks like an innocent little side project, it gives kids an opportunity to:
- Ask questions and participate in scientific investigation,
- Sustain focus and persistence (it takes some patience to turn cream into butter manually),
- Practice gross motor skills (especially if you ask kids to hop on one foot or kick while shaking the jar),
- Explore cause and effect,
- Hone creativity skills (like open-mindedness and imagination), and
- Learn lots of science.
Yes! Butter science involves learning about
- States of matter,
- Physical change, and
- The science of taste,
Need the science background to share with your kids during the investigation? Scroll to the end of the post! And if you’re going to sneak in some writing, print this page for keeping records and science notes.
Or take it a step further and click the image below to download your Ultimate Science Pack for FREE.
How to Make Homemade Butter in a Jar
(Edible Science Experiment)
What you need
Jar with a lid
Heavy whipping cream
(Optional) salt and different flavors, such as honey, herbs, or dried culinary lavender
What to do
A quick tip: if you leave heavy whipping cream out for a few hours to bring it to room temperature first, it will dramatically reduce the prep time.
Pour heavy whipping cream into a mason jar, filling no more than halfway.
Put the lid on securely and start shaking.
Shake the Mason jar for 5-10 minutes, opening the lid from time to time to check different stages of transformation.
This is how it looked when we checked at about the 5-minute mark: very foamy, but pretty much all liquid.
The butter is done when you feel that a solid lump is bouncing around inside the jar. It took us about ten minutes to reach this stage.
It can definitely feel like an arm workout, so keep it fun by hopping on one foot and then the other, counting really loudly in silly voices, or wiggling to an energetic music beat (check out our happy list here). If you are sharing one jar, take turns!
Enjoy on a toast, in oatmeal, or straight out of a jar! I love to add a spoon of homemade butter to my black tea to make butter tea (yum!)
(Optionally) Once your butter is made, rinse it in cold water to remove the traces of buttermilk (the liquidy ‘whey’ of the milk). It makes the butter taste and look better, plus (as we found out through experience) it keeps longer in the fridge.
The Science of Butter
Butter is inherently tasty.
Do you know why?
Food scientists tell us it’s because we are genetically programmed to crave fat-rich foods. It helped our ancestors survive their harsh lifestyle of hunting, farming, and building, and it also provided fat storage during a long, lean winter.
Cow’s milk has a lot of fat. And here’s an interesting tidbit from my uncle who had a farm when I was a kid: after milking the cows, he would leave milk out for a day, and the fat would gather on top. All that fat on top is what we call cream.
When I was a kid, I would stick my fingers right into a jar, pick up that cream and lick it off my fingers… Now I’m thinking, sticking my fingers into an unpasteurized jar after playing on a farm? Insanity!! But it was the best treat ever!
When we put cream in a jar and shake it, the cream goes through a physical change. The fat molecules in the cream move about as vigorously as you shake it, bump into each other, and eventually clump together, forming a mass.
This lump is butter. The liquid is buttermilk which can be used for biscuits and pancakes. I also use it for my Keto almond crackers. Yum!
Butter has been around for over 6,000 years, and we’ve come a long way from manual churning to modern butter technology. In fact, there is a lot of science involved in modern butter making too.
First, engineers and builders have to design and build butter-making equipment and machines. Then, someone has to develop efficient logistics for delivering the milk from the cows to the factory and into the equipment while keeping everything sterile and fresh. And then, chemists have to play around with the texture, color, and flavor of the butter to develop the most desirable product based on the information they gather about what customers prefer.
It’s no simple task!
Ask kids if they would like to work (or visit) a butter lab? Or be a butter fat tester for a living (Yes, it’s a real thing! Fantastic answer to the annoying questions some adults like to ask, what would you like to be when you grow up? Don’t you think?).
Finally, when I did a unit on Butter with my kids, we found the most useful printable resources on the Butter Museum site. If you want a little more detailed information on the science of butter, definitely visit the site and download their lessons. They are nothing short of amazing!