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Mightier Ways to Pop Your Corn

01.13.14 Mightier Ways to Pop Your Corn

Make popcorn with your kids!

Find out how you can make this wonderfully nutritious snack even healthier, then take the pledge to try a mightier way of popping corn!

Every year, Americans eat 16 billion quarts of popcorn. Or, 51 quarts for each of us. Or, let's just say, we snack on a quart of this tasty (and potentially nutritional) treat every week. With all of this popcorn eating, it only makes sense to make the tastiest and healthiest popcorn we can. 

Healthiest? Did you know that popcorn is packed with healthy antioxidant compounds called polyphenols? Popcorn has one of the highest levels of polyphenols of any plant food, even more than most fruit! And these antioxidants help neutralize free radicals and aid in the prevention of degenerative diseases. Popcorn is also regularly included on healthy snack lists because it's 100% unprocessed whole grain. Plus, there are zero additives or preservatives in original form. Now, the trick to keeping this snack healthy, is by preparing it yourself. As tasty as it is, we all know that movie popcorn is full of calories, unhealthy fats, LOADS of sodium, weird additives and mystery ingredients.

Methods: When you make your own popcorn, there's a perk: you know exactly what you're eating, the nutritional benefits you're gaining, without any extra bad stuff. 

  • Stove-top: Simply use any stovetop safe pot with lid.  Pour in kernels and oil. There are surely many stove-top techniques for popping the best kernels, but if you need a good place to start, here's a fabulous recipe (or rather, a foolproof popping routine) that delivers amazing popcorn time after time.
  • Whirley Pop: Also a stove top method of popping, but tailor-made for popping crunchy, tasty popcorn with a vented lid - this keeps the popcorn dry and crunchy! This stainless steel popcorn popper can hold up to 6 quarts of popped corn. And you (or your kids) will love the group effort involved - give them the task of turning the stay-cool wooden handle (with your guidance) to ensure all the popcorn gets popped. And another teaching moment: safety around the stove!
  • Microwave: Popping popcorn in glass is a safe and quick option. It's also a great option for microwave savvy kids to make their own popcorn snack..  This glass microwave popcorn popper with vented silicone lid is incredibly easy to use and highly functional.  Just pour in the kernels and heat (no oil needed in the glass popper). If you like buttered popcorn, just add some on top of the vented lid and it melts into the popcorn as it pops.


What to avoid: Microwave popcorn bags made their first appearance in the early 1980's. At the time, these bags seemed like a terrific solution to the process-involved stove top method. What many people now know is that microwavable popcorn bags are lined with a chemical that is not good for our health. The coating (the same chemical found in non-stick cookware) is there to prevent the bag from leaking hot oil. PFC (flouorotelemor) can break down to form PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) which when heated, can migrate,  all over your bag of popcorn.  

In addition to microwavable popcorn bags containing a lining that the EPA lists as a carcinogen, the ingredients in microwave popcorn are also less than desirable including many additives, preservatives and GMO oils. For a closer look at specific brands and their ingredients, take a look at this article from the Food Babe.

And even though we are happy to suggest a simple, resourceful method, it's not recommended to use a paper bag while popping your corn in the microwave, due to the safety concerns of the glues used in the bags and the possibility of igniting in the microwave. Instead, try a glass bowl with a vented cover for a DIY microwave popper. FYI: be careful to allow for venting - otherwise your bowl is subject to exploding. Just sayin'

Alternatives:

What about popping corn right off the cob? This is a pretty cool alternative and a fun experiment to engage with kids, especially if they are involved in picking out the popcorn cobs (find these at your local farmer's market) and experiencing this new, first time experiment. We tried this method using both of the glass microwave poppers and had the best luck with breaking the cob in half for the 1 quart glass popper and using both halves in the 2.5 quart glass popper. You can also pop this popcorn off the cob using the stove-top method by simply removing the kernels from their cob into the pot.

Have you ever tried popping your kernels in coconut oil? The word's out: coconut oil is healthy! Coconut oil is the most stable oil to use in cooking, especially at high heat. Coconut oil also contains lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid, that our bodies can put to use immediately. Plus, this mighty oil stimulates metabolism, supports the immune system, improves thyroid function and is excellent for cardiovascular health, to a name just a few of the many benefits. Coconut oil also has polyphenols, so you're doubling the antioxidants by popping corn in coconut oil! We recommend organic, raw, unrefined, virgin coconut oil where the oil has not been chemically treated.

Helpful tips: 

  • 1 ounce of popcorn kernels = 1 quart popped
  • Pop on the stove with a loose fitting lid to allow steam to escape, otherwise you'll risk chewy popcorn
  • Store popcorn kernels in air-tight containers to maintain appropriate moisture for successful popping
Why does popcorn pop? There is a small drop of water stored inside a circle of soft starch within the kernel. When the temperature reaches 212 degrees, the water turns to steam and when the kernel is heated even more (347 degrees) the pressure inside the grain bursts the hull open. Voila! However, for successful popping, popcorn kernels should be stored in air-tight containers (we prefer glass containers) to maintain moisture. It's also recommended to avoid storing in the fridge as the atmosphere would dry out the kernels, and they would subsequently be the ones left unpopped (sadly referred to as "old maids" or "spinsters").
Now that you know more than you ever thought you would about making popcorn, are you ready to try something new?
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