Did you ever wonder how popcorn pops or if you could make your own kettle corn? Learn more about popcorn and how to make it on the stovetop, as well as how to pop kettle corn with no special equipment.
Curling up on the sofa with a bowl of freshly popped popcorn, your favorite soda, and a four-star movie turns any night into a winner and a beloved pastime. Americans love popcorn so much that, according to the Popcorn Board, we consume 51 quarts of it annually per capita. In addition to being great comfort food, popcorn is a whole grain product, containing about 1 gram of fiber in every cup. It's also lower in calories and fat than many other snack foods: air-popped popcorn has about 30 calories per cup, while popcorn popped in oil has about 55 calories per cup.
How Popcorn Pops
In case you've always wondered, the Popcorn Board offers the science behind how popcorn pops. Popcorn is different from other types of corn in that its hull has just the right thickness to allow it to burst open when heated. Each kernel of popcorn contains a small drop of water stored inside a circle of soft starch. The soft starch is surrounded by the kernel's hard outer surface. As the kernel heats up, the water begins to expand. Around 212°F, the water turns into steam and makes the starch inside each kernel superhot and gelatinous. The kernel continues to heat, and the pressure inside the grain builds until it finally bursts the hull open. As it explodes, steam inside the kernel is released. The soft starch inside the popcorn becomes inflated and spills out, cooling immediately and forming into the odd shapes we know and love. A kernel will swell 40-50 times its original size!
How to Make Popcorn on the Stove
Tip: Use an oil that can withstand high temperatures without smoking or breaking down, such as canola oil, peanut oil, or an oil specifically designed for popcorn popping. Do not use olive oil or butter.
How to Make Popcorn in the Microwave
You can also make popcorn in the microwave by using a special microwave bowl designed for this purpose. These bowls are available in stores that carry kitchen and cooking supplies. Simply add kernels to the bowl (no oil required), cover, and heat according to the recommended time for your microwave wattage. You may have to experiment a few times to get the timing right.
Caution: Do not use a brown paper bag to microwave popcorn, as these are not designed for microwaving.
How to Season Popcorn
In addition to butter and salt, you can top your popcorn with any of the following: garlic salt, Parmesan cheese, dried thyme, ground cumin, dried oregano, dry taco or ranch-style seasoning mix, lemon pepper, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, or brown sugar.