Of Cabbages & Kids

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What student doesn’t enjoy a good lab? I really enjoy watching them discover things for themselves. Here is what they are learning:

Cabbage is absolutely great for you, bursting with antioxidants & flavor, and is believed to ward off cancer, strengthen hearts and boost brain power. Whoa, that is some good stuff!

You may not know that red cabbage is a remarkable chemical supply house. Among other ingredients, it contains 44 different anthocyanins, (naturally occurring pigments found in plants). Flowers, apples and grapes get their color from anthocyanins.

What makes the anthocyanins in red cabbage so interesting, and useful to chemists, is their sensitivity to pH. Boiling red cabbage produces a purplish, watery solution with a pH about 6. However, if you add an acid to lower the pH of the solution (or add a base to raise it), then the color of the solution will change, and the colors are fantastically brilliant!

A substance whose color changes with pH (or in the presence or absence of a certain chemical) is called an “indicator.” Indicators are very useful to chemists because they can be used to tell when a chemical reaction has reached its endpoint or when something is present in a solution.

Hope you enjoyed our lab as much as my young Athabascan chemists did!

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