Popcorn can be surprisingly difficult to get right using modern cookware and hobs. Sometimes it doesn’t pop, sometimes it burns to a cinder and sometimes it appears to come close to catching fire, filling the house with smelly popcorn induced smoke causing the smoke alarms to go off. Making popcorn from scratch can be difficult. You need as many of the kernels as possible to pop but you need to avoid them burning at the bottom of the pan. Before considering a popcorn making machine try this method first and see if it works
- Use a ‘high smoke point oil’ such as peanut, canola or grapeseed. It need not matter of its expensive. It can be kept for popcorn only
- Buy the highest quality popcorn kernels. As with the oil it’s a false economy to buy the cheapest. Even if you use the best most expensive ingredients home made popcorn still costs a fraction of the store bought product. And with a quality product the success rate should be higher
- Use a saucepan with a capacity of about six pints and use about a third of a cup of popcorn kernels
- Have ready two tablespoons of butter (to taste) and some salt.
Heat the oil on a medium high heat and when its ready just put three or four popcorn kernels in the pan and cover it until they pop. Then add the rest of the popcorn in an even layer. Cover the pan, remove it from the heat and count out exactly thirty seconds. When the popcorn is placed back on the hob it should all pop at about the same time. Shake the pan whilst it’s popping and if possible leave a small gap in the lid to let the steam out. The popcorn should stay crisper. Remove the pan and put the popcorn in a large bowl. Salt or sugar the popcorn and shake it up. Alternatively put the salt (but not the sugar) in the pan whilst it’s popping. If your require butter melt the butter in the pan and shake it into the popcorn.
Modern cookware, hobs (or simply lack of the right touch) however may make you one of the minority who can’t make popcorn. So you may have to resort to a machine. It is however worth doing in some shape or form, particularly if you are partial to a snack. Home made popcorn with only a very little (or no) sugar or salt on it is much healthier snack than the various bought in brands with their large amounts of sugar, salt, toffee, and various additives etc. It’s also a good snack for children to avoid them getting into the habit of eating sweet and salty snacks. On it’s own popcorn is a low calorie high fibre health food. And it’s nice
Microwave popcorn is a poor and unhealthy alternative. The bags contain unpopped kernels, solidified cooking oil, seasonings, salt and artificial flavorings. They aren’t great value for money either. The popcorn bag is folded in a particular way for use in the microwave oven and the steam pressure from the heated popcorn kernels inflates the bag. The bag is designed to prevent the popcorn scorching, (which it does at around 150 degrees), and which is the main difficulty with making popcorn in a pan. A metalized film or ‘susceptor’ is laminated onto the bag and absorbs microwave radiation to concentrate the heat on the film interface. So the heat is distributed over the kernels achieving an even flavour. This type of bag was patented as recently as 1981. Unlikely as it may seem however, safety difficulties are associated with these bags. Not all microwaves have the same cook times and setting the timer and coming back when the popcorn is supposed to be ready may result in burned popcorn or no popcorn at all. Some manufacturers suggest you remain with the popcorn whilst it’s cooking but that’s not so easy to achieve when the popcorn is in the oven with the noise of the oven disguising the popping sounds. It also seems to defeat the object of paying for what is supposed to be a convenience item. You would however notice any smoke coming out of the oven and be there to restart the microwave if the popcorn hasn’t popped within the time allowed. There are even reports of the emissions from microwave popcorn being a potential cause of lung disease. Microwave popcorn contains ‘diacytil’ to add to its butter flavour. Microwave popcorn is however not regarded as a serious threat if you avoid inhaling the fumes. But that may be cold comfort. Another peculiarity of microwave popcorn bags is that they contain Perfluorinated Carboxylic Acid (PFOA) an allegedly carcenogenic chemical which for some reason appears to have entered the physiology of nearly 99% of the inhabitants of the industrialised world. So on almost all grounds microwave popcorn is not recommended.
If you still have difficulty with your popcorn you might consider making your own microwave popcorn bag before investing in a machine. It is possible to make popcorn in a microwave using a simple paper bag or a bowl with a heavy (although not sealed) glass lid. The difficulty is however that the microwave penetration will be very uneven and a large number of kernels may be left unpopped. Incidentally unpopped kernels are knows as ‘spinsters’ or ‘old maids’
KCS Popcorn Advice
Popcorn appears to be a subject which exercises the attention of KCS Advice site readers more than it should. So in future articles we will be considering the merits of the various popcorn making machines and looking into recipes, some seasonal. But before considering investing in a machine we recommend that you try some of the suggestions mentioned above. If you have any comments on the subject perhaps you would like to place them on our forum. Assuming that readers survive being gassed by bag fumes, poisoned by the popcorn bag and its associated chemical contents, setting fire to the kitchen, or causing an explosion in the microwave oven we will eventually find a way of allowing you to make healthy popcorn at low cost in your own home. Even if you need to resort to a machine