What’s the difference between synthetic and natural vanilla? What’s the deal with umami? Just how well do you know what’s in your food? The Museum of Food and Drink addresses all these questions and more, in a family-friendly, bias-free way that will leave everyone, uh, hungry for more. Here’s the lowdown on this new museum, which just extended its inaugural exhibit so you have a chance to to take the kids!

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photo: Museum of Food & Drink via Yelp

Small Space, Big Taste
Calling the MOFAD a museum is a bit of a misnomer: the warehouse-like space is home to a single exhibition, “Flavor: Making It & Faking It.” The debut exhibited was originally slated to be replaced in February, but New Yorkers’ enthusiastic response resulted in an extension all the way to May 31.

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photo: Justin H. via Yelp

Do You Smell That?
The Flavor exhibit explores the history of trying to manufacture flavors, and touches on topics like MSG, the elusive savory flavor of umami, the history of synthesizing vanilla, and much more. There is a ton of text to read, and it’s all incredibly informative and presented free of bias — visitors are left to form their own opinions based on the information provided. Even the choice of the show’s sponsor, Nissan’s Infiniti, is a conscious effort by museum to steer away from food-related sponsors and potential conflicts of interest.

It’s a great opportunity to talk with your kids about some cool new stuff they’ve never known about their food. But chances are, kid visitors will be too busy playing with the many hands-on elements of the exhibit such as the museum’s “Smell stations,” at which different smells are released at the press of a button. Visitors are encouraged to play around with mixing and matching the smells to create different aromas.

Little explorers can discover that Coca-Cola’s mystery ingredients most likely contain orange rind, cinnamon, and vanilla (you probably didn’t know that either), or they can busy themselves at the largest smell station and see what mint, cheese, and banana smell like together. (Spoiler alert: it’s pretty terrible).

Museum of Food and Drink

Taste Makers
The exhibit also involves a sense you might not always associate with museums: taste. “Taste tablets” are scattered throughout the space, and visitors are encouraged to taste the difference between natural and artificial vanilla, see what all the umami fuss is about, and just try out different flavors. (The ingredients are clearly listed so you can steer clear of any allergens, and no, you probably shouldn’t count the tiny tomato taste tablet as a serving of veggies for the kids.)

Museum of Food and Drink

Even More Chances To Learn
The museum offers a complimentary place to stash your coat and bags so you can take your time and enjoy it unburdened. On your way out, make sure you have your kids leave their impressions of the exhibit on the bright and colorful feedback wall. Colored index cards are available, along with question prompts and drawing utensils for a chance for budding scientists to get creative. If your kids are now super excited about flavors and smells, the small gift shop has a few fun flavor science kits and jars of sea salt you can bring home to continue the learning experience.

Want to learn more? Visit one of the MOFAD’s various family events and children’s workshops over the coming months. Current scheduled events will teach children how their senses influence flavors, how chefs cook with liquid nitrogen, and other chances to interact with the science of flavor.

Museum of Food and Drink
$10/adult; $5/kids; kids under 5,  free
Wed. & Thurs. Noon-5 p.m., Fri. Noon-8 p.m., Sat. & Sun. Noon-6 p.m.
62 Bayard St.
Williamsburg
Online: mofad.org

Have you visited MOFAD with the kids? What did you think of it? 

—Yuliya Gheikman