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Why is a mineral like a cake?

A fruit cake The definition of a mineral can be difficult to understand. To look at it another way, we can compare a mineral with something we all know well - a fruit cake!

Can you compare a mineral and a fruitcake?
Ask yourself the following questions.

Making a fruit cake Are cakes naturally occurring?

We make cakes.
Minerals form naturally, we don't make them. Cakes are not like minerals in this way.

Fruit cake ingredients Are cakes inorganic?

Fruit cakes are made of eggs, flour, sugar and fruit - all of these are organic - they come from plants and animals.
Minerals do not come from plants or animals. They are inorganic. Cakes are not like minerals in this way.

Cakes are solid Are cakes solids?

Well, they should be a bit spongy, but they are not liquids or gases.
Minerals are solids. Cakes are like minerals in this way.

Recipe for fruitcake Do cakes have definite chemical compositions?

Think of it this way.
The ingredients needed to make a fruit cake are: eggs, butter, flour, sugar and fruit. If you miss out the flour the cake will be soggy. If the amount of sugar is wrong, it won't taste right.
The chemicals in a mineral are just like the ingredients in a cake. There has to be exactly the right amount of each chemical for the mineral to form properly. You cannot leave out any of their 'ingredients'. Cakes are like minerals in this way.

Slices of cake Do cakes have an ordered atomic arrangement?

However well you mix the ingredients in a fruit cake, some slices will always contain more fruit than others. Fruit is not arranged in an orderly way in a cake.
Chemical elements - the ingredients in a mineral - are arranged in an orderly way. All 'slices' of a mineral have the same chemical elements in the same places. Cakes are not like minerals in this way.

Comparing a mineral to a cake may be a bit of a simplification, but it helps you to understand the basics. If you want to learn more try having a look at the Tricky bits.

Still confused? If you read these pages and complete the quiz, you should have a pretty good idea of what a mineral is.

Defining a mineral
Why is a mineral like a cake?
The tricky bits ... atoms, molecules and the rest
What is a mineral? The quiz!