Why you should not buy expensive, odd smelling and chemical rich ‘microwave popcorn’. Just buy ‘popcorn’ and microwave it.
by John Pope on September 3, 2015
I make no secret of my dislike for the microwave, it is not a cooking tool that I would normally choose to use for anything much. I do like to think I am a fair person though and I am willing to concede that there are some things a microwave does very well, making popcorn, whilst not as much fun as the pan method, is one of them.
Now, you can go to any old supermarket anywhere in the developed world and buy a packet of ‘microwave popcorn’. You can take your purchase home, bung it in the machine and three minutes later you will have…
…an odd smell, some mediocre tasting popcorn with a strangely high calorie count, and a lot of unpopped kernels.
Or you could instead purchase some regular corn kernels and pop those in the microwave (pun intended), which will give you…
…a normal popcorn smell, some very good tasting popcorn, a much lower calorie count, much more change in your pocket, but sadly still quite a few unpopped kernels.
There are a couple of alternative methods, you can either put the corn into a brown paper bag, or put it in a bowl and cover with a plate.
The brown paper bag method works a treat every time, but most people don’t have a big stack of brown paper bags laying around and you can only use each bag a couple of times before it gets a bit greasy and bleh. There is also the fact that if you believe the advice of the USDA then this is a bad idea: “Never use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil in the microwave oven.” They don’t actually elaborate on any reasons for this, just tell you not to do it.
This leaves us with the bowl and plate method, which also works very well and probably seems easier. There is just one caveat here, do make sure that the bowl and plate you use are both labelled as ‘microwave safe’ and that they fit together well. Using a non-‘microwave safe’ bowl or plate means you will end up with just a few of those wonderful little explosions and a bowl of unpopped and slightly singed kernels. I have absolutely no idea of the scientific reason for this, but repeated experience shows it to be true.
You can either keep your corn kernels unadulterated and pure and add any flavourings afterwards, or you can add the flavour before we even get to popping. Toss the kernels in 1tsp of neutral flavoured oil and a little salt or other seasoning, or in a little melted butter and sugar, and then continue as you were.
All you need to do now is put your corn kernels into your bag or bowl, put them in the microwave on high power and let them go for as long as needed, which will probably be about 3-4 minutes. When the popping slows down to a couple of seconds between pops then take them out so that you don’t end up with dried out, grey, burned popcorn, and that really is it.
Dispelling a myth
There are a hundred theories and tips all over the net for microwaving popcorn (well, for anything really), some of them have merit but some really really don’t.
Some people recommend soaking the kernels in water before microwaving them. The theory is that because it is the steam in the kernel expanding, then a kernel with more moisture will pop more readily. Whilst the logic would seem to be very sound, I have tried popping corn having soaked and having not soaked and the reality is that this makes absolutely no difference at all. The time before first pop, the time until last pops, and the percentage of unpopped kernels remain almost exactly the same.