Does Preheating Your Microwave Before Making Popcorn Actually Work?

The overlooked hint that's apparently been on popcorn bags for years says "preheating" your microwave with a cup of water will produce a better pop.

When we heard about a tip on the Aldi bags of popcorn that can make the microwave version better, we had to check it out. Sure enough, there's a "popping hint" on the bag! The tip states to "preheat" a cup of water in the microwave for one minute on high before popping your bag for the best results. The Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen had to give this a shot.

overhead shot of a black bowl of popcorn on a grey surface
Erin Kunkel

Unfortunately, in the Test Kitchen, we found little to no difference in the popcorn results in the two methods. In fact, the first bag popped by one of our Test Kitchen pros turned out perfectly without preheating. Then, the second bag made after heating the water produced uneven popping and even a few burnt kernels. Since this trick reportedly works wonders for some, we got insight from an expert. "Based on how microwaves work, 'preheating' the microwave wouldn't be very effective as the microwave heats molecules in the food itself," says Laura Johnson, consumer analyst, research and development at LG Electronics.

Johnson notes that everyone has a preference when popping popcorn. "Some people like it a bit more burnt while others prefer it to be fresh, with kernels half popped," she says. "If the preheating water method enhances your snacking experience, it's certainly helpful." Johnson also says the biggest factor in a good pop for popcorn is the freshness of the package. Always check the expiration date on what you're buying (and popping if you keep it stocked for weeks or months in your pantry).

What's the Popcorn Button on Your Microwave Do?

There's also the question about the purpose of a popcorn button on your microwave. Most bags say not to use it, so why is it even there? According to GE appliances website, some models' popcorn features use a humidity sensor to determine when the popcorn is nearly done. As the kernels pop, more steam is released, and the microwave calculates the remaining cooking time. The button is set to the average popping time for other brands and models.

When it comes down to it, no two microwaves are the same. So it's in your best interest to figure out how your microwave produces the best pop based on your preferences and stick to that method for your next backyard movie night.

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