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Popcorn: Making the Perfect Puff

Get back to the basics of great popcorn that's also good for you

Most of us enjoy a bowl of light - or not so light - and flavorful popcorn either on a regular basis or on occasion. It's a wonderfully healthy food item when you don't buy it at a movie theater and avoid loading it down it butter at home. There are many choices on the grocery aisles as well as gourmet selections. You can even doctor them with a host of spices and blends that really beef up the taste.

The basics of creating those powerful little puffs are straightforward. Here are a few tips and tricks to keep you on the popcorn bandwagon.

Popcorn Construction

Each kernel is "born" with a protective outer hull. This is the pericarp. The interior is called the endosperm. No water can get in or out. A perfect piece of popcorn, though, must have some moisture to create the big, puffy treat. The insides are nearly 15% moisture. If it dries out, it will not pop. Heat turns that moisture to steam and, lo and behold, it eventually blows right through the hull.

That's why kernels should always be stored in an airtight container.

The Healthy Side of Popcorn

It's a perfect taste treat and if popped without any oil, contains practically none of those bad transfats. Air popping can be a bit on the tasteless side. Use a butter flavored nonstick spray and you'll take your taste buds to another level. Dry sprinkles are also fat-free, calorie-free, and/or carb-free, plus they're loaded with fiber. They won't stick to air-popped varieties without a coating of oil

That leads us to the unhealthy side of what goes on with popcorn. We won't even discuss those laden tubs served at theaters or out of commercial poppers. When you browse the grocery aisles, you'll find a full range of fat content - and about the lowest is 2.5 grams per serving (as opposed to 1.5 of air popped). Even if a package claims to be air popped, manufacturers may coat it with an oil before putting on the final seal.

The Perfect Pop

Of course, you should always follow the manufacturer's instructions. That will give you the best pop. The oil-to-popcorn ratio must be right and the kernels must be in good condition. Bargain basement bagged kernels will probably not give you the same quality of pops as more expensive brands.

Commercial cookers recommend coconut oil, which does have a higher fat content. Canola is also good and lends a "crunch" to popcorn. Before experimenting with oils, be sure you understand the "smoke points" of each. It you must add salt, make it the "lite" variety. It's easy to over-salt popcorn, so go easy.

When the kernels have almost ceased popping, wait until there are about two-second intervals and remove from the heat.

If you're using an air popper, try different gourmet varieties. These upscale kernels tend to have a higher moisture content, which can help offset a dry taste from lack of oils.

The Old Maids

The "old maids" are those lasts few kernels that never pop. There may be one, two, or even a handful. Popcorn researchers offer a couple of theories for those poor lost souls. One is that the kernel didn't have enough moisture going into the heat. The second is that a breach in the hull prevented the burst. Of course, most of us know that some of those partially busted kernels are mighty tasty - just don't break a tooth!

Tips for Choosing a Popper



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