Radishes with a Dash of Science

Radishes are ideal for school gardens, especially in the colder regions, where it is one of those fast growing crops that can fit within a lesson plan in more than one season. Radishes can be planted in the cold of early spring and be ready to harvest before school is out, and they can be planted in fall and harvested before the ground freezes. Unfortunately, not many kids crave the healthy, bitter root. I’ve spent years experimenting with ways to get kids at school to at least try the radishes. Here are a few winner ideas:

1. Plant interesting radishes.  In addition to the expected cherry balls, throw in some Easter Egg, black Spanish, white daikon, and watermelon radishes. Fun colors are irresistible to some kids, and the white and watermelon varieties tend to be less bitter.

2. Make them taste appealing. We had a hit when we served thinly sliced radishes on sourdough bread with class-made farm butter, sprinkled with sea salt and herbs. With hardly any radish in there, you can’t go wrong. On the flip side, we’ve served them straight – thinly sliced, marinated in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, kosher salt and herbs (lemon thyme from the school garden is great). The taste is completely changed — like crunchy lemon.

3. Have a Scientific Taste Test. We use the taste test method with many foods (“Do different colored peppers have different flavors?”), but with radishes, we can have some fun with chemistry, plus serious taste bud action and reaction. The key is salt. First sprinkle some thin slices of radish with salt (it is fun to experiment with different kinds of salt here too). Let the salt sit a while and ask them to observe — they should see the salt leaching liquid out of the radish. Then taste the unsalted radishes, followed by the salted radishes and note the difference. The salted radishes are much less bitter. This experiment goes very well with lessons on taste buds, and works just as well with sour grapefruit and even sweet cantaloupe (which seems to taste sweeter when salted). This taste test also would pair well with an experiment on the effect of salty water on radish seed germination, which illustrates quite well that too much table salt is toxic.


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