a fresh "dressed" fish (scaled and gutted)
a plastic container several inches longer, wider, and deeper than
a large box or two of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
a small scale, like a postage scale (optional)
Fill the plastic container about 2 inches deep with baking soda.
(If you have a
scale, weigh the fish now and jot down how much it weighs. You may
also want to note what the fish looks like--the colors on its skin,
whether it looks shiny or dull, and so on.)
Once the fish is prepared and weighed, pack the gut cavity of the fish with baking soda. Place it on top of the baking
soda in the container and cover it with more baking soda, so that
it's a couple of inches thick on the top and sides.
After a week, remove the fish and brush off the excess baking soda.
What does the fish look like now? If you have a scale, try weighing
the fish again.
Throw away the used baking soda (inside the fish and out), and repack
the fish in clean baking soda, just as you did a week earlier.
Wait another week to ten days and remove the fish again. By now
you should have a stiff, leathery, fish mummy!
probably discovered that, after two weeks in baking soda, your fish
has been transformed into a stiff, dry mummy. It may look dull,
feel rough, and have lost half its body weight (or more), but it
sure doesn't smell like a two-week-old fish!
dramatic changes are direct consequences of dehydration--removing
water from the fish's body. The baking soda draws the water out
of the fish's cells and tissues. But how does this happen?
soda is the common name for the salt sodium bicarbonate. Because
of its molecular structure, water can be incorporated into the sodium
bicarbonate molecules, but the molecules remain dry--up to a point.
experiment, most of the baking soda remained dry, even though it
absorbed a lot of water. However, you may have found that the baking
soda packed closest to the fish--and exposed to the most water--was
somewhat moist. The fresh baking soda used for the second week of
mummification increased the efficiency of dehydration.
just left your fish out on a shelf, exposed to the air, bacteria
and fungi would have begun to decay the fish, creating strong, unappetizing
odors. Since all living things require water to survive, removing
the water from the fish greatly inhibited the growth of these organisms,
decreasing the unpleasant effects of rotting.
Egyptians used a naturally-occurring salt from the banks of the
Nile River, called natron, to mummify their dead. Natron is made
up primarily of sodium carbonate (a very efficient, but relatively
expensive, dehydrating material), with about 17% sodium bicarbonate
(the baking soda you used), and very small amounts of sodium sulfate
and sodium chloride (table salt).
before refrigeration and freezing of foods were available, drying,
pickling, salting, and smoking were common means of food preservation.
Dehydrated foods are still commonly used by backpackers and astronauts
in space, and home dehydrators are popular appliances.
activity, created by Karen Kalumuck of the Exploratorium Teacher
Institute, is presented in conjunction with Revealing Bodies, a
major new exhibition on view until September 4, 2000