Baking Meringue Cookies to Assess Air Quality

The Center for Genomic Gastronomy suggests a “tasty” way to measure air pollution

Basic air quality sampling equipment costs hundreds of dollars due to the sensitive instruments, precision engineering and rare materials needed. Though despite the high expense, it’s worth it, because accurate air quality measurements are crucial in health and environmental policy.

Though, there may be a more affordable alternative – whipping up a batch of cookies.

Genomic Gastronomy, the environmental-advocacy-group-slash-think-tank that brought us a kit for sampling new species of lichen, moss and fungi that grow in irradiated zones, has brought another too-cool-to-dismiss-as-a-joke idea: meringue cookies that double as air quality samplers.

The core of the idea comes from the cooking process. As any wrist that’s made a meringue will tell you, baking a batch means whipping a lot of egg whites. Properly whipped, those whites are a stable structure containing 90% air — air trapped almost as effectively as with costly sample containers. What you do with that trapped air is up to you, but Genomic Gastronomy has a few suggestions:

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  • Compare the color and taste of meringues made in various areas for an informal air quality comparison
  • Deliver the delicious air traps to labs to test for heavy metals and other air pollutants
  • Serve them as a blind taste test. Bonus points for doing so to a politician, researcher, journalist or other individual who can influence environmental policy

Community or educator workshops are another interesting application of the meringue air testing, used as a way to engage neighbors, children and interested adults in a concrete display of how air quality affects daily life.

Genomic Gastronomy has dubbed this culinary action point the “Smog Tasting Project” and recommends experimenting with the taste of meringues from different areas in your region. They say eating cookies laced with tainted air is safe enough — or at least as safe as breathing the same air ( which you’re already doing if you’re making cookies there).

The Center for Genomic Gastronomy