Let’s Pop Real Healthy Popcorn

 Popcorn

Don't get sucked into the microwave.

By Kevin RR Williams

RECIPE I enjoy popcorn as a snack, even as an occasional meal replacement. Many view it as a healthy alternative to other snack foods. It doesn't outrank Ritz Crackers but Orville Redenbacker popcorn holds fifth place of the most popular snack foods according to YouGov BrandIndex. [1] However, there's good popcorn and bad popcorn. Which one are you eating?

Like so many processed foods, additives can compromise the simple kernel. Food manufacturers hope shoppers will pay more attention to the large lettering on the front of the package than to the smaller ingredient list on the back. I know firsthand. As a graphic artist, I have worked on over 300 food, software and toy packages over the years. Of the following four labels [2], which popcorn would you buy?

Pop Secret, Home Style Microwave Popcorn
Pop Secret INGREDIENTS: Whole Grain Popcorn, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Butter (Cream, Milk, Salt), Natural Flavor & Artificial Flavor, Color Added. Freshness Preserved by Propyl Gallate.
~$3.50 lb: 180 calaries per serving, 12g total fat, of which 3g are saturated fat and 5g are trans fat with 410mg of sodium
Cheez-It, White Cheddar Pre-Popped Popcorn
Cheez-It INGREDIENTS: Popcorn, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil (with BHT to Protect Flavor), Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Whey, Salt, Reduced Lactose Whey, Buttermilk, Maltodextrin, Sugar, Lactic Blue Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Corn Syrup Solids, Modified Cornstarch, Natural Flavor and Artificial Flavors, Disodium Phosphate, Citric Acid, Sodium Caseinate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Dried Yeast, Soy Lecithin, Less Than 2% Silicon Dioxide (Anticaking Agent).
~$6.27 lb: 330 calories per serving, 25g total fat with 580mg of sodium
Eden, Organic Popcorn Kernels
Eden INGREDIENTS: Organic Yellow Popcorn.
~$2.56 lb: 80 calories per serving, 1g of fat with 0mg sodium
Note: A pound of pure seed produces more than same weight of seed mixed with oil as in microwave packs and much more than pre-popped.
Bulk Popcorn Kernels
Bulk INGREDIENTS: Yellow Popcorn.
~$0.52 lb: 100 calories per serving, 2g of fat with 0mg sodium (varies)
Note: A pound of pure seed produces more than same weight of seed mixed with oil as in microwave packs and much more than pre-popped.

Microwave Can Be Healthy

Wayne Watson of Colorado was awarded $7.2 million in damages for lung problems purportedly caused by years of inhaling the aroma of microwave popcorn that included dactyl, which he ate twice a day. "Popcorn lung" a recognized respiratory disease — also known by its medical name bronchiolitis obliterans. Diacetyl has been banned for five years when factory worker lawsuits began. But some experts have raised concerns over other chemicals used to coat microwave bags that keep oil from soaking through and make the bags more fire resistant. [3]

Pre-popped corn is the most convenient but also the most costly per serving. Besides, do you really wish to consume the preservatives required to keep it "fresh" tasting? Microwaveable popcorn is more common but did you know that you can pop popcorn with no additives by placing kernels in a brown paper lunch bag that has been folded shut. [4] Simple. There's no need for oil or special metallic lining. The downside is it will have that bland acquired taste of air-popped corn (unless you burn it, of course).

Turn Up The Flavor On the Stovetop

For more flavor in nearly the same amount of time it takes to microwave, I prefer a stovetop method, combining peanut oil with a few dashes of hot chili sesame oil. When out of peanut oil, I'll use olive oil. The point is to have a natural, preferably high-temperature oil. [5] In a pepper mil, add Trader Joe's smoked sea salt to the peppercorns ratio of 3:1 (mostly pepper).

  1. Pour enough oil to cover the bottom of a pot. Add enough organic corn to cover bottom and cover pot placed on medium heat (350-370°F).
  2. Shake the pan while you are popping to ensure that the unpopped kernels remain at the bottom of the pan where the heat is so that they can be popped.
  3. Pour into a large bowl and grind just enough salt/pepper to barely cover top.

By popping corn yourself, you retain more control over additives and the quality of the kernels. On rare occasions, when in the mood for hot buttered popcorn, use the real thing, not butter-flavored seasoning. Melt some butter with smoked paprika and sprinkle some salt as a topping. Most of the time I'll use just a dash of sea salt or the salt-and-pepper combo. There will be a pot, a lid and bowl to rinse out but less environmental impact.

Is Organic Worth Extra Cost?

Non-organic corn is a highly subsidized commodity available at little cost to food manufacturers. Certified organic bags may be smaller (14 oz vs. 16 oz) but you avoid GMO corn, modified at the molecular level that is not listed in the ingredients. Eden isn't the only organic popcorn on the shelves. Jolly Time sells organic and there are various gourmet varieties online. [6] All include just one ingredient.

Stock up if you find organic popcorn on sale or have a coupon. Even with the higher cost for organic, you will save money over prepackaged microwaveable varieties and be A Bit More Healthy. How do you enjoy your popcorn? Let me know below.

Tags: avoiding genetically engineered foods, dietitians, eat unprocessed, low calorie

References
  1. The Most Popular Snack Food In America. businessinsider.com ^
  2. LabelWatch.com. www.labelwatch.com ^
  3. Do you need to worry about ‘popcorn lung’ from microwave snacks? boston.com ^
  4. How to Microwave Gourmet Popcorn in a Brown Paper Bag. squawkfox.com ^
  5. Cooking Oil. en.wikipedia.org ^
  6. Fireworks Gourmet Popcorn. popcornlovers.com ^