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6 Tips Every Popcorn Popper Should Know

Updated on November 29, 2010

If you're a popcorn aficionado like those of us at Just Poppin, this lens is perfect for you.

In this lens we discuss the history of popcorn, the science behind popping popcorn, the microwave popcorn debate, how to be the best popper in town, and more.

Gourmet Popcorn Flavor Saver Canister
Gourmet Popcorn Flavor Saver Canister

Tip 1

The Birth of a Tasty Snack

Deep in the heart of dwelling Caves in New Mexico, archaeologists discovered the oldest ear of popcorn, estimated to be about 5,600 years old. (And it’s still pop-able!)

A very old snack indeed...but, it may date back even further than that! In fact, when you snack on popcorn, you may be eating some of the same snack foods that our less evolved ancestors enjoyed! Archaeologists have found 80,000 year old corn pollen that is almost exactly the same as modern popcorn pollen. So the “cave people” may have actually had popcorn!

It is said that popcorn was originally popped by throwing it onto sizzling hot stones over a campfire. As it popped, it shot in all directions, making for a fun game of trying to catch it. The reward was a tasty snack! (A new game to try at home with your kids...just invest in some safety goggles first. Or, if you do the indoor version, invest in a housekeeper to help with clean-up.)

Ranging back to 300A.D., there have been several other accounts of ancient popcorn discovered in Mexico, Utah, and Peru. Though it most likely originated in Mexico, it was also grown in China, Sumatra and India.

American Popcorn

By the time Europeans settled in America, the Native American tribes had already been growing more than 700 types of popcorn. They had invented many extravagant poppers, and popcorn was worn as adornment in the hair and around the neck. There was even a commonly consumed popcorn beer!

The Native Americans introduced popcorn to the Colonists, who loved it so much they served it with sugar and cream for breakfast (the first breakfast cereal!) It was also a dish served at the first Thanksgiving dinner.

Now, jump ahead a few hundred years to the era of the Great Depression in the United States. Since popcorn was comparatively cheap (only 5-10 cents per bag), it became very popular. The popcorn business thrived, while others were failing, and it was a source of income for farmers. There were sugar rations during WWII that reduced candy production, so popcorn became a favorite snack. Americans actually began eating 3 times more popcorn than they had before!

Today, Americans eat over one billion pounds of popcorn per year! That pops out to 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually or 52 quarts for every man, woman and child in the country.

Gourmet Mushroom Popcorn
Gourmet Mushroom Popcorn

Tip 2

A Science Lesson: How to Pop Popcorn

It starts out as a little golden seed-like kernel...then POP! It’s a white puff of goodness! How does it happen?

Some Native Americans believed that a spirit lived inside each popcorn kernel. When the kernel was heated, it was believed that the spirit grew angry and would burst out of its home in the form of a puff of steam.

For those of you who may be a bit skeptical of the “popcorn kernel spirit theory”, here’s a slightly more “scientific” explanation:

  • Popcorn, like all grains, contains water.

  • A popcorn kernel is made up of 14% water.

  • When a kernel is heated above the boiling point, the water turns into steam, and the starch inside each kernel turns into a very hot, gelatinous substance.

  • Steam creates pressure within the kernel, causing the kernel to “explode”. The soft starch inside becomes inflated and spills out, immediately cooling and forming the odd shape of popcorn. (A kernel swells to 40-50 times its original size!)

Wow, did you know all that was going on every time you heard a piece of popcorn pop?!

But, if all grains contain water...you may be asking...why don’t all grains pop when they’re heated up?? The answer is in the “hull”. The “hull” (for those of you who have not gone through the rigorous popcorn education that we have) is the outer covering of popcorn and other grains.

Popcorn, unlike other grains such as rice, wheat, or regular corn, has a non- porous hull that traps steam. If a grain has a porous hull, the steam escapes and can not build up enough to cause the “explosion.”

Movie Popcorn (photo courtesy of Steve Snodgrass)
Movie Popcorn (photo courtesy of Steve Snodgrass)

Tip 3

The Unpopped Popcorn Kernels

We've all experienced it. You're munching away on a nice, big bowl of popcorn. As your popcorn begins to near the bottom of the bowl...there sit dozens of little kernels that never came to fruition. But, why?? Why do some kernels turn into the huge puffs of heaven that we love to snack on, while others just sit there and remain in an eternal state of "kernel".

In the popcorn industry, these unpopped kernels are known as "old maids".

There are two explanations for why these kernels fail to pop:

  1. Kernels do not have enough moisture to create the proper amount of steam for an "explosion".

  2. They have a leaky"hull", allowing too much steam to escape (See tip #2 if you've forgotten what the "hull" is!)

Danger Zone!

The unpopped kernel is not just an annoyance, it can actually make snacking on popcorn somewhat dangerous! For years, dentists have cursed the "old maids" of popcorn, as they are the culprit of many a chipped tooth.

In fact, there was a New York City movie-goer who, after cracking his tooth on an unpopped kernel, attempted to sue the movie theater for not posting a warning sign on the popcorn. Needless to say, the court did not award him damages, as they explained that this fact of popcorn is common knowledge.

In addition to being a hazard to the teeth, unpopped popcorn kernels can also present a choking hazard. For this reason, popcorn is generally not recommended as a safe food for toddlers.

Fortunately, we have a way to save you from the dangers of popcorn! Read on to hear about the unpopped kernel's worst enemy...the Kernel Katcher Popcorn Bowl.

Kernel Katcher Popcorn Bowl
Kernel Katcher Popcorn Bowl

Tip 4

Snack Safely: The Kernel Katcher Popcorn Bowl

Have no fear, the "Kernel Katcher" is here!! Thanks to a dentist's patented design, there is now a way to safely eat popcorn without worrying about those "old maids" taking a toll on your teeth or becoming a choking hazard.

This bowl will revolutionize the way you eat popcorn. It's very easy to use:

  1. Pop your popcorn as usual

  2. Pour popcorn into the Kernel Katcher bowl

  3. Snap on the Kernel Katcher lid

  4. Do the latest dance craze, the "Kernel Katcher Shake". Or, for those of you who prefer to be a wall-flower, you can just shake the bowl in a gentle, circular motion (not nearly as much fun to watch, but equally as effective!)

  5. Presto! All the unpopped kernels and tough hulls are gone from your popcorn! Just unscrew the bottom catcher compartment, throw away those "old maids", and put the bowl into the dishwasher.

Another way to experience popcorn without the threat of tough hulls is to buy "hulless" popcorn. This won't eliminate the unpopped kernels, so you will still need to use the Kernel Katcher. However, the "hulless popcorn" is a nice break from having those hulls stuck in your teeth! It's great for people with braces, dentures, or digestive problems that prevent them from enjoying such delicacies as popcorn.

Of course, as you've learned from Tip #2 "A Science Lesson - How to Pop Popcorn", popcorn kernels must have a hull for the "pop" to exist! So technically, hulless popcorn isn't actually "hulless". However, it is a special breed of popping corn with the smallest, thinnest, most fragile hull of all varieties of popcorn.

Just Poppin's Tender Pop Hulless Popcorn is tender, white, and virtually hulless, with a delicate crunch and a very mild sweetness. It also pops up larger than other hulless popcorn varieties.

Stainless Steel Stovetop Popcorn Popper
Stainless Steel Stovetop Popcorn Popper

Tip 5

The Microwave Popcorn Debate

It's true, the microwave has revolutionized the popcorn making process. But, you may want to think twice before nuking your popcorn. Studies have determined a few reasons that microwave popcorn can pose a hazard to your health.

PFOA (perfluorooctanoic) - A good rule of thumb is, if you can't pronounce it, you probably shouldn't eat it! Common sense tells you that there is nothing natural about being able to make popcorn in a microwave. In order to make it work, microwavable popcorn bags are lined with a coating called perfluorooctanoic, or, (for those who aren't scholars in the art of impossible linguistics) "PFOA". The Environmental Protection Agency has identified PFOA as a likely carcinogen.

The Butter Flavoring - Ahhh...that warm, buttery aroma that fills the air when you pop open the bag of popcorn. We all love the buttery flavor, but the chemical that goes into the fake butter has some nasty potential health risks. Factory workers that have been exposed to this chemical over extended periods of time have developed a condition called bronchiolitis oliterans (yay, more impossible to pronounce words!). This is actually now commonly being referred to as "popcorn lung". The ingredient that causes this condition is called "diacetyl". Although some microwave popcorn companies claim that their popcorn does not contain diacetyl, the bags still contain the harmful coating, so it is still not entirely safe to eat.

So, how to do you safely get your popcorn fix and avoid all of those harmful chemicals? Easy! Do it the old fashioned way, on the stove. It doesn't take much longer than the microwave, and you can avoid the health risks. Just Poppin has a plethora of ways to cook natural, delicious popcorn...chemical free! And if you need that butter flavor fix, top your popped popcorn with Odell's Real Butter Popcorn Topping.

Presto Poplite Hot Air Popcorn Popper
Presto Poplite Hot Air Popcorn Popper

Tip 6

Be the Best Popcorn Popper in Town

Picture this. It's movie night. All your friends are seated in their favorite spot. The lights are dimmed. Then...you slowly walk out of the kitchen with a glowing light around you and a chorus of angels singing in the background as you present...the popcorn. Now, the movie can officially begin. Of course, you want your friends to be in movie watching bliss, as they crunch happily on their tasty, fluffy popcorn. You don't want them chipping teeth on kernels or chewing on stale or soggy popcorn!

Well, fortunately, we're here to save you from potential popcorn social suicide. Here is the surefire way to be the best popcorn popper in town and have movie nights at your house talked about for years to come. (O.k., we may be ever-so-slightly exaggerating. But, seriously, this will help you make really good popcorn!)

The first step to popcorn paradise is in the popper. At Just Poppin, we have some of the best popcorn poppers in the world. Here are a few options so you can see what is the best fit for your particular popping style:

  1. Whirley Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper -The 3 minutes this popper takes to pop is as fast as microwave popcorn, and tastes SO much better. You also have control over how much oil & salt is used. Make up to six quarts of delicious popcorn quickly & easily!

  2. Presto Pop lite Hot Air Popcorn Popper-This is compact and fast. (Pops up to18 cups in less than 2 1/2 minutes!) It has many great features, and is actually the same hot air popper we use in our own homes.

  3. Stainless Steel Stovetop Popcorn Popper- For those who don't want aluminum touching their food, this is a great way to look after your family's health and make fresh, classic style popcorn right on your stove. It has a thick aluminum disk encapsulated by stainless steel. The disk distributes the heat much better than plain stainless steel, making for excellent popping.

Use salt, butter, or seasonings to flavor the popcorn to your liking.

Get rid of the "old maids!"

Once you've popped the most exquisite popcorn you've ever tasted, you MUST use the Kernel Katcher to ensure that you don't ruin the popcorn eating experience by giving yourself or someone else a chipped tooth or choking hazard from an unpopped kernel. Now...you've popped, seasoned, and de-kerneled. You can now present the warm, tasty bowl of popcorn to your friends (or, to yourself...we won't judge) with all the confidence of the best popcorn popper in town!

Does all of this popcorn talk have you ready for a snack? Experience the best popcorn you've ever eaten! Go to Shop.JustPoppin.com today or, call us at (941) 234-4773. Find all the BEST gourmet popcorn, seasonings, and popcorn accessories!

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