Why does popcorn pop?

Two factors combine to create the characteristic popcorn popping: efficient heat transfer to the interior of the corn kernel (the endosperm) and the high mechanical strength and integrity of the outer kernel layer (the pericarp).

Intense heating causes water within the endosperm to vaporize and this creates high pressure within the kernel. The pericarp, now acting as a pressure vessel, resists rupturing until a certain pressure is reached. At that point the kernel violently explodes, making the popping sound. When this happens, the starchy endosperm, expanding rapidly as its starch granules swell, creates the puffed texture of the now edible product.

Popcorn pops well only when its moisture content lies somewhere between 11 and 14%. The better brands are packed in airtight containers because their moisture level has already been adjusted to the required level. If the kernel is dry there will not be enough internal pressure to burst it. If the kernel is too moist the pressure will build up before the starch is cooked: the casing softens and cracks prematurely, and all you get is split kernels instead of fluffy popcorn.

Similarly, you will often get poor results if you cook popcorn gradually, on a low heat, rather than sudden high heat. It is the fast build-up of pressure--too rapid for the kernel to relieve gradually--that causes the split casing and the pop. Slow heating allows the kernel to soften, so it cracks at a lower pressure and allows the remaining water to escape early.

Not all varieties of corn will pop, however. Nonpopping varieties are those that have poor heat transfer by the endosperm and a weaker pericarp.

Source: The NewScientist - contributions by Julian South and David Hills

Sure, it's easier just to zap a bag of the stuff, but, really, where's the fun in that? Try making it the old-fashioned way next time, and follow these easy instructions.

  • First, you need some popcorn. Jolly Time is probably the most widely known brand in the States, so it should be easy to find at your local market. However, shop around and try different brands and varieties for some fun.
  • Make sure you store the kernels in an airtight container. Popcorn depends on a certain amount of moisture to pop, and an airtight container will help the kernels stay fresh.
  • Likewise, you should never store popcorn in the refrigerator or freezer as this can cause excess moisture, as well as fscking up the amount of time the kernels take to pop.
  • Use approximately 3 tablespoons of oil (vegetable, olive, Crisco, whatever) to just cover the bottom of a heavy pot with a lid (a 3 quart pot is about the right size).
  • Now pour in just enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pot (about 1/3 cup if you're using a 3 quart pot). Cover the pot (but leave it somewhat ajar to let steam escape, thus preventing tough and/or wet popcorn), put it on medium heat, and shake the pot from time to time to send unpopped kernels to the bottom.
  • When popping stops or slows, remove from heat. Uncover carefully, place in a large serving implement.
  • Season to taste (I like a little Tabasco, a little salt, and Parmesan Cheese).

    Sure, it takes a bit longer than microwave popcorn, and you might burn a batch or two, but what a sense of accomplishment you'll have when you finally whip up that bowl of freshly popped popcorn for your family and friends.

  • Popcorn comes in two varieties, real and microwave. The latter is easier and tastes alright, but the former is the real good stuff, although it takes a little more work. To prepare microwave popcorn, well, just stick in the microwave and nuke it.

    Now, to make real popcorn, you'll need a cast-iron pot, as listed above, and some kind of oil. Olive oil works, but I suggest using canola oil for cleanest and best results. Before placing the pot over heat, pour a thin layer of oil into the bottom, enough to just cover the entire bottom of the pot, leaving no space dry. Now, get some kernels of popping corn and place them in the oil. The kernels must be covered in oil, or else this won't quite work so well. Watch the pot closely, as this process won't take very long. As soon as you see the first kernel pop, remove the pot from the burner. This is the time to dispose of any excess oil. After exactly 1 minute, place the pot back on the burner and cover it up. You will hear the rather noisy sound of kernels popping. Once the sound begins to ease off, carefully (as there will be hot air inside) lift the cover. Have some receptacles handy, as this thin layer of kernels will produce a LOT of the final product. Pour this judiciously into receptables.

    While the pot is empty but still hot, drop some pats of butter into it, and let it melt. Carefully pour this melted butter onto the popcorn and use some kind of eating utensil to mix it up and distribute the butter evenly. Now, shake some salt into the mix, and it's ready to serve.

    Be sure to eat the popcorn right away, though, lest it get stale. Stale popcorn rivals flat soda and moldy bagels as one of the most undesireable things to consume.

    Upon my movie theater deciding to offer a new size of large popcorn, I was motivated to see what kind of chunk of our daily intake of fats we would be consuming by eating popcorn. Popcorn is healthy, a great snack, when air popped, and eaten in moderation (3 cups seems to be the recommended serving size). Our popcorn is, while delicious and horrendously overpriced when compared to real-world expectations, extremely unhealthy for any one individual to consume, even without butter. I can understand getting a large, and sharing with all your friends... but still, the numbers are frightening. Note: Some numbers have been rounded.

    First, some nutrition facts:

    POPCORN (popped in vegetable oil, with salt)
    55 calories/cup
    3 grams of fat/cup
    .5 gram of saturated fat/cup

    CLARIFIED BUTTER OIL
    (204 grams fat/cup, 127 g saturated fat/cup, 1796 calories/cup)
    1 oz = 0.120095 cup = 24.5 grams fat, 15 saturated, 216 calories
    1.5 oz = 0.1801425 cup = 37 grams fat, 23 saturated, 324 calories
    2 oz = 0.24019 cup = 49 grams fat 31 saturated, 431 calories

    Thusly, our sizes of popcorn by themselves are as follows:
    "Small": 85 oz = 10.208074 (10) cups = 30 grams of fat (5 grams saturated fat), 550 calories
    Medium: 130 oz = 15.612349 (15.5) cups = 46.5 grams of fat (7.75 grams saturated fat), 852 calories
    Large: 170 oz = 20.416149 (20.5) cups = 61.5 grams of fat (10.25 grams saturated fat), 1127 calories

    Our sizes of popcorn with butter:
    Small with butter (10 cups, 1 oz butter oil): 54 grams of fat, 20 saturated, 766 calories.
    Medium with butter (15.5 cups, 1.5 oz butter oil): 83 grams of fat, 31 saturated, 1,176 calories.
    Large with butter (20.5 cups, 2 oz butter oil): 110 grams of fat, 41 saturated, 1,559 calories.

    In the average 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, the recommended fat intake is no more than 65 grams.
    Saturated fat is no more than 20 grams.

    Thusly, to have popcorn at my theatre is as follows:

    "Small", without butter: 25% saturated fat intake for the day, and just under half your total fat for the day.
    But, with butter, the % of your daily intake of saturated fat goes to 100%, and total fat goes to 83%.

    Medium, without butter: 71% of your fat, 39% of your saturated fat intake.
    With butter: 128% of your fat for the day, 155% of your saturated fat.

    Large, no butter: 95% of your fat, 51% of your saturated.
    With butter, that jumps to a frightening 169% of your fat, and 205% of your saturated fat for the day.

    I am still on the fence as to whether it is appalling that we offer these sizes because people buy them, or that people buy these sizes because we offer them.

    Popcorn is also what is widely recognized as being the first electronic music pop hit. In 1972, the song "Popcorn" by group Hot Butter made it to number 1. It was in fact written by Gershon Kingsley and then played by studio group Hot Butter. The almighty MiniMoog was the synth used for those crunchy analog bleeps.

    The song has been remixed by Jean-Michel Jarre, Aphex Twin and a few more musicians.

    The second electronic music pop hit was an edited version of Kraftwerk's Autobahn (in 1975)

    The song "Popcorn", played by Hot Butter, has been remixed many times, (as nuage has mentioned). For instance,

    Caustic Window (a.k.a Aphex Twin)'s remix,
    At least three remixes by The Boomtang Boys,
    A surf-rock version by Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet,
    A remix by Jean Michel Jarre,
    A remix by Richi M,
    And finally, a remix by DJ Bell.

    Collecting all the versions of Popcorn can be a fun excercise in Napsterism.

    When I was a small boy in Anaheim, California, life always meant that after sundown, no matter the worries, you could go to the corner of your street and watch fireworks from the nearby Matterhorn at Disneyland. Heading back from a grandparents house could mean a stop to watch the Dancing Waters in front of a hotel. Some weeknights we'd go and meet Dad across the street from his work for pizza at Shakey's where a guy hammering on a magical musical machine would play a cacophonous version of 'Popcorn' if requested.

    It was the 70's in SoCal and every establishment for miles around Disneyland tried to get an entertainment hook for locals and tourists. Not unlike the Oughties in most cities when it seemed even banks had someone spinning discs for the clientele, Orange County had car salesmen with safaris in the back lot, mock gold rush storefronts on clothing stores, garbage bins in the shape of animals in every park and burger joint, model train sets running around the ceilings in steakhouses, and tigers chasing the Jackson Five in pancake joints.

    'Popcorn' by Hot Butter was on a yellow vinyl 45 my older brother had that I'd love to play over and over, not realising what an important cog this piece of music was in electronic music history. I just liked it. A lot.

    The magical music machine briefly was a boat until it somehow found a home and play at the medieval themed Shakey's pizza parlour Across The Road From Dad's Work for a few years in the 70s. The machine, its proper name being the Kaleidocosmicorgrig, was (or is)

    '35 feet in length, 12 feet tall, weighs approximately 2 tons... a contrivance of pedals, keyboards, pulleys, mousetraps, electrical wires, wind machines, magnets, bellows, fishing weights, stovepipes and bicycle wheels, arranged so as to control a parlor piano, 30 tuned bottles, 13 10-foot tuba pipes, a fine bass drum, 2 tambourines, a mariachi marimba, a wooden xylophone, Swiss glockenspiel, castanets, maracas, wood block, cymbals, bonkers, zonkers, and taxihorn'
    (as well as a slide projector) and was played by its inventor Mr Nick O'Lodeon. He even had an album for sale 'Nick O'Lodeon Plays Actual Music On His Kaleidocosmicorgrig' and it's as awesome in recording as it was live.

    When I was 7, we moved further up north, where there were no fireworks every night, no fountains of the rainbow, and the only organ playing was at church. The Hot Butter 45 survived the move however and as far as I'm aware is still in a cabinet at my parent's house, waiting to be slapped on a turntable.

    Pop Quiz

    A horror movie from 1991. Directed by Mark Herrier. Written by Mitchell Smith (story) and Tod Hackett. Players: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace-Stone, Derek Rydall, and more.

    Buy a bag, go home in a box

    A bunch of film students setup an all-night horrorthon in an old theatre. They find a film of a film maker killing his own family on stage. Soon someone starts stalking the group one by one.

    I saw this along time ago so I don't remember details. I do remember being pleasently surprised. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I actually enjoyed it. It was a fine horror flick.

    Popcorn is a novel by Ben Elton which was later adapted as a successful West End pay. The novel is a satirical novel that takes a wry look at modern Hollywood's sex and violence obsession, and the repercussions on society.

    Popcorn's Amazon summary says, "It rings all the familiar changes on the theme of Hollywood vapidity, crassness, and decadence; however, Popcorn accomplishes this so deftly that you may not realize that you've heard it all before until you're finished with the book. Popcorn has little new to say about America and the culture for which it stands: talk-show hosts that are vacuous, movies that are violent, and audiences that are moronic ... That said, the book generates an undeniable tension. Popcorn is a pleasing (if not always pleasant) page-turner."

    To be honest, I found it fairly dull and unfunny because the humour just fell flat on its face, and it's *subtle* message is not discussed in any depth.

    The plot's like this: Wayne and Scout are two psychopaths in the 'Bonnnie and Clyde' mould.

    "Bruce Delamitri makes movies about killers. Great movies, stylish movies. Bruce's movies are hip. Post-modern cinematic milestones, dripping with ironic juxtaposition. His killers are style icons. They walk cool; they talk cool. Getting shot by one of them would be a fashion statement." says the cover. Delamitri is a Tarantino-like figure who banks on sensationalism to get his movies to sell.

    Wayne and Scout, to avoid the death penaly, break into his home on Oscars night and start a siege, which ends in a bloodbath. Only after do the media and society begin to ask questions.

    Who is to blame? Ben Elton thinks he is being really cool and subtle by showing us the state of our media obsessed society, but in fact the question he's asking is "Does art mimic reality, or does reality mimic art?" No matter how much fans of violent films protest, the answer is the latter, because there are stupid, impressionable people out there

    The fact is that the question isn't really new and contemporary - Plato thought of it ages ages ago when he 'banned' poets from 'The Republic.'

    Plato opposed forms of idle imitation. He was against all arts which constructed false summations and divided the soul from itself. The Cambridge University philosopher Catherine Pickstock says, "And so he was suspicious of the dramatists, for example, because in the plays of Euripides and Sophocles, in Plato's view ... the audience's emotions were being falsely manipulated."

    The argument is also topical: in Britain, a debate rages over whether out 'gun culture' is because of gangasta rap and the like? Or does gangsta rap merely imitate and talk about our 'gun culture'?

    So, is art to blame or is reality? Both, but Ben Elton's message (that he shoves down our throats) is that people will always try to rid themselves of responsibility. And Plato would have hated gangsta rap.

    "Hello. At the tone, Pacific {Standard | Daylight} Time will be XX:XX, and XX seconds."

    767-2676. Number dialled to get the time in the Bay Area, Central Valley (excluding Sacramento), and the coast south of San Francisco. In truth, any number beginning with 767- will get you the time, but "popcorn" is the one most commonly known and used. Available in the area codes 209, 408, 415, 510, 530, 559, 650, 661, 831, and 925.

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