Pop Star

I am reclaiming popcorn as a healthy and natural snack– not some over-salted, mushy-with-butter, expensive mess in a bucket or bag. Let’s look at the facts on this. That little trifold of leading name brand microwave popcorn in the “movie theater” flavor has 42.5 calories per cup and over sixty percent of those calories are from fat (27.5). “Oh, that’s not too, bad,” you say? Well, nobody eats one cup. In fact, the serving size is 4 cups and they estimate that a bag has about 2.5 servings. But, if you eat the whole bag–and who hasn’t–you are consuming 425 calories, with 275 from fat, 30 total grams of fat, and 750 mg of sodium.

On the other hand, good old kernels yield about 20 calories, a quarter of one gram of fat, and zero sodium per cup. Eating the equivelent of a bag full of popcorn would result in the not-so-shameful results of 200 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. Can you believe that? Ten cups of popcorn for 200 calories!

So, if popcorn kernels naturally have no sodium and very little fat, where does it all come from? Probably things like partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and artificial colorings and flavors… and maybe some real butter. Let’s leave the analysis at this example and not terrify each other with the facts surrounding actual movie theater popcorn, but if you’re curious, go to this article.

Okay, so now we are all on the bandwagon. But in case I haven’t sold this idea enough, making popcorn the right way is not only healthy, but cheap! Just don’t buy it in your snack section of the grocery store. That’s where they put all the junk food and over-priced jar of Orville Whathisname kernels. That is not where you buy popcorn kernels. My grocery stores carry popcorn kernels in the Mexican/Latino food aisle, where a pound of kernels runs about $1.00. The jar of kernels in the snack aisle is about $5-$6 a pound. In other grocery stores, I might find it with the whole rice and beans. I also find that farmers markets in Illinois carry popcorn kernels cheaply–and usually some neat varieties.

Armed with knowledge and your bag of popcorn kernels, there are three easy methods to get them to fun and fluffy and full of health, not fat.

1) Pull out your good, ol’ air popper. If you don’t have one, your mom probably has one that has been stuck in a cabinet for twenty years. This is not really new technology here. It is just heat added to a spinning metal tray. This method of popping corn adds no oils or butters and is pretty much fool proof. At least, it shouldn’t add butter or oils. My little cheap-o one will burn if you try to add butter or oils, but I’ve seen the ones that have a little tray on top for melted butter. Don’t use it. Not only will it defeat the health benefits, but you will probably make your popcorn soggy and your machine greasy. Then you’ll never want to pop the kernels.

2) You can also make popcorn kernels in the microwave. And I am not talking about the little trifold pouches you can buy at the grocery store. I am talking about taking your thrifty bag of loose kernels, sticking some kernels in a paper bag lunch bag and hitting a button. All microwaves are different so I am not going to give you a fail-safe amount of time to pop your kernels. Start with a couple of minutes BUT keep an ear out for the slowing down of the popping. Now, until you get pretty good at this, err on the side of caution and stop the time when there is consistently about one second between pops. But take heart. Even if you stop the clock too early and end up with a handful of kernels on the bottom, you can stick the bag back in the microwave and pop them again.

3) Finally, if you don’t have an air popper or microwave, you can resort to a classic low-tech method: a pot. Making stove top popcorn is not as difficult as it seems. And despite using a little bit of oil to start off with, it’s not unhealthy and the oil provides a nice smoky quality to the popcorn. Most recipes on-line that I saw recommended at least a tablespoon of oil, but I think this is way more than you need. I like to use just enough to give the single layer of kernels on the bottom of the pan a sheen. Cook over medium heat, and allow a little space for condensation to escape so that the popped kernels do not get mushy and remove the lid as soon as the popping has stopped.

Okay, so now you have a great, low calorie snack–though, unfortunately, many people haven’t learned to appreciate the taste of naked popped corn. I have a solution for this, too and it is not a batch of unnaturally yellow powdered cheese to sprinkle over the popped corn. My solution involves dried herbs and/or spices and a dash of either salt or sugar. I say this a lot, but I truly believe it– the variations and recipes are only limited by your imagination. But just in case your imagination needs a little jump start, below are a few ideas. The only trick is that you need to grind the mixtures really, really finely– preferably in a mortar and pestle. The measurement of each ingredient is about a pinch. We’re not creating a huge amount of mixture here. It will be just enough to put inside a small paper lunch bag and lightly cover the kernels.

Rosemary-Oregano-Salt

Cinnamon-Ginger-Sugar

Mustard Powder-Garlic-Salt

smoky paprika-salt-chili powder (a teeny amount of chili powder until you get accustomed to this.)

lemon zest-fennel-salt

Just start thinking of things that sound delicious together and try your hand at making a coating. Remember, the trick is that all ingredients have to be dried and ground very finely. Place in a brown paper bag and shake, shake, shake.

I like popcorn just the way it is… though now that I am re-reading this last part… I kind of can’t wait to go home and try a bag with brown sugar and a teeny pinch of salt. Go out there and experiment! But please share your results with me.

As always, I love to hear your ideas! Let me know what you think or tell all your friends how wonderful you think lifeimproved.org is.

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One response to “Pop Star

  1. I love popcorn on the stove!!! We use whatever infused olive oil we crave (currently green chile) just enough for a sheen, and top off with some sea salt. It is our favorite snack. My friend makes hers in the microwave with a glass popcorn kettle and salt and pepper. And the kids love it with parmesan cheese.

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