On average, Americans eat a quart of popcorn a week. (Source: Consumer Reports) King-Man and I certainly do our part to keep that average up. It's our favorite snack food, and apparently America's favorite, too. Luckily, it's also good for us--one of the healthiest snacks around; well, as long as it's made in a healthy way with healthy ingredients. I microwave popcorn in a way that is easy, healthy and economical.
Popcorn is nutritious
Popcorn is loaded with heart-healthy and cancer-fighting polyphenols. In fact, popcorn has 4 times more polyphenols than the average amount found in fruits. Popcorn is high in cartenoids, a type of antioxidant that may positively impact eye health. Popcorn’s fiber makes it a snack that both fills you up and stays with you. 3 cups of air-popped popcorn (no butter or oil) has only 91 calories. More information here.
Why make your own microwave popcorn? It's hard to beat the convenience of those pre-measured packets; but for me, the cons of those packets outweigh the pros. That's why I make my own.
1. It's healthier to make your own. I don't know if you've read all of the hoopla in recent years about pre-packaged microwave popcorn packets being harmful to your health. It was believed that the chemicals used and fumes when heated could lead to "popcorn lung" that was a problem for popcorn factory workers. That initial fear is pretty much old news now, because most of the major microwave popcorn makers have changed their packaging and ingredients to eliminate the popcorn lung risk. However there are other concerns. The microwave popcorn packets often use unhealthy fats and are loaded with way too much sodium. Many still contain weird additives and mystery ingredients, and nutritionists advise us to avoid those. I make my own popcorn so I know exactly what I'm eating and enjoy all of the nutritional benefits of popcorn with none of the bad stuff.
2. It's cheaper to make your own. The microwave popcorn packets cost between $4.50 and $6.50 per pound of popcorn. If you buy a bag of popcorn kernels and make your own, it's costs around $.50 per pound. HUGE savings. Even if you buy the organic kernels at Whole Foods, it's $1.39 per pound--still way cheaper than the packets.
3. It's greener to make your own. There's no packaging to throw away if you make your own popcorn. Simple as that. Less waste, so it's earth-friendly.
Microwaving popcorn in brown paper bags. This has become a popular way to make your own microwave popcorn. It's easy and convenient. Lots of people have written about their favorite way to make popcorn this way. Tipbusters.com has done a great job of compiling and testing the different variations on this technique. If you want to try this method, I recommend reading their tips first.
There are, however, 2 drawbacks to using brown paper bags:
The bags get thrown away (less earth-friendly).
The USDA doesn't recommend cooking in brown paper bags. Here's what they say: “Do not use brown paper bags from grocery or other stores for cooking. They are not sanitary, may cause a fire, and can emit toxic fumes. Intense heat may cause a bag to ignite, causing a fire in the oven. The ink, glue, and recycled materials in paper bags can emit toxic fumes when they are exposed to heat. Instead, use purchased oven cooking bags."
MY WAY: Use everyday kitchen items to microwave popcorn--no special equipment or throw-away supplies required. It really bugs me when we consumers get duped into thinking that we need to buy specialized products that perform the same functions that can easily be accomplished with everyday items we already own. There are all kinds of different sizes and shapes of gizmos out there for popping popcorn. I've owned more than one of them. Not needed. Now I make microwave popcorn using kitchen items I already own and use for other cooking tasks. Here's all you need (pictured below):
A microwave-safe bowl; if you use a glass bowl, make sure it is tempered glass and can handle the high heat. I use an Anchor 2.5 quart mixing bowl--it came in a set of 3 bowls with lids that get used frequently for mixing and serving.
A vented microwave food cover. Again you may already have one--they're widely available. They're great to have for containing heat and splatters with all kinds of microwaving. The one I have can be used flat, or the sides pop up to make a dome as pictured below. It is essential that the lid has vent holes. As the popcorn kernels heat, the steam generated is extremely hot. If the lid isn't vented, intense heat can build up and cause the bowl to explode. If you don't have a vented cover, you can cover the top of the bowl with wax or parchment paper, secure it with a rubberband, and poke vent holes in the top with a knife; however this is less earth-friendly, since you'll be throwing away the paper.
Popcorn kernels. If you have some that have been sitting in your cabinet for a long time, toss them and buy fresh. The moisture in the kernels makes them pop well. Old kernels loose their moisture and popability (I think I just made up a word). Storage tip: Store popcorn in an airtight container in the cabinet. Refrigeration is not recommended, because many refrigerators will dry out the kernels.
LIGHT SALT & BUTTER ADDED--For snacking, the plain version is too dry and bland for me. I like to add a smidgeon of salt and butter to mine. I don't overdo it, so it's still a healthy, low-cal snack; but it satisfies my salty, cruncy snack cravings.
Recipe #1: Plain Microwave Popcorn (no oil, butter, or salt)
Step 1. Assemble these items: A microwave safe bowl, vented lid, and popcorn kernels. Step 2. Add 1/3 cup popcorn kernels to bowl, put on the lid, microwave for 3-4 minutes, until 1-2 seconds between pops. Done.
Warning: the bowl will get hot--use hot pads or oven mitts.
Recipe #2: Microwave Popcorn with Light Butter and Salt
Step 1. Assemble these items: A microwave safe bowl, vented lid, popcorn kernels, kosher salt, butter.
Step 2. Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1/4 teaspoon salt to bowl. Microwave 20-30 seconds, just until butter melts. The salt dissolves in the butter.
Step 3. Add 1/3 cup popcorn kernels and stir it so that the kernels get completely covered with the melted butter and salt mixture. Even them out in the bottom of the bowl. This results in every piece of popcorn having the butter/salt flavor on it as it pops. The flavors distribute and stick better than adding them after the popping. They get cooked on so they stay put on each kernel.
Step 4. Cover the bowl with the vented lid and microwave on high for 3-4 minutes, or until there are 1-2 seconds between pops. The time will vary depending on your microwave and bowl, so you may need some trial-and-error on the first batch or 2 to figure out how long it takes the popcorn to cook. Mine took 3 minutes, 40 seconds. If you pop a second bowl right away, it won't take as long because of the residual heat in the microwave and bowl.
Done! 1/3 cup of kernels made 8 cups of popped popcorn. One of the benefits of this method is that you can eat the popcorn right out of the bowl you popped it in--fewer dishes to wash. The butter and salt get cooked into each kernel as it pops--I love the flavor. Not too much, not to little; for my taste anyway. You can adjust the butter and salt to suit your tastes.
Still low in calories and salt! Even with the butter added, it's such a small amount that a 3-cup serving of this lightly buttered popcorn only has a total of 130 calories. The small amount of added salt makes a big difference in the taste, too, without coming close to the amount of salt in the pre-packaged microwave popcorns.
There are a few unpopped kernels left in the bowl. How many? That depends on the moisture in the popcorn, the bowl, and the cooking time. I err on the side of caution and stop microwaving before I run the risk of the popcorn starting to burn, and that probably results in a few more unpopped kernels than if I let it cook longer.
King-Man and I like this slightly buttered and salted popcorn the best. However, there are lots of yummy extra seasonings and flavors that can be added. I'll share some of those recipes in my next post.
This method for microwaving popcorn isn't quite as convenient as the store-bought packets; but it's pretty darn easy, and so much tastier and healthier. I think so anyway. Let me know if you give this a try or have another way of making popcorn. I'd love to hear from you.
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