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Appetizers, Homemade Trials

Homemade Trials: Popcorn!

by Nick

I’ve been a huge proponent of homemade popcorn for many years now. Frankly, I just think it tastes better than the microwaved version and I’m pretty sure that it’s way cheaper, but sometimes my bias can get in the way of actual reality so I wanted to run a few different kinds of popcorn through my homemade trials and see what comes out on top!

If you’re new to this series, I pick a food and make it from scratch and then compare the results to a few different popular store-bought versions in the categories of time, cost, nutrition, and taste and see if my version can hang with the store-bought versions.

Let’s get started!

My Basic Popcorn

I compared my basic homemade popcorn to three different store-bought versions: Smartfood popcorn, Jiffy pop, and ActII microwave popcorn.

My homemade version is really easy and I’ve used it for a few different recipes here on Macheesmo.

Basically, I just cover the bottom of a large pan with popcorn kernels so they are in a single layer. This works out to be about 1/3 of a cup for my pot.

Then I add a neutral oil like vegetable oil until it just covers the kernels. This is about 1/3 of a cup also. It looks like more than that because the kernels displace a lot of oil.

in oil

Barely cover with oil

I put this over medium heat with a lid and wait for the popping to start. When the popcorns starts popping, I press down on the lid to keep the pressure in the pot and shake the pot vigorously for 30-60 seconds as the popping continues.

As soon as the popping slows to a few seconds apart, I take it off the heat and it’s done!

The whole process takes maybe 4-5 minutes.

Once it’s done, you can season it in many ways. I personally like it with seasoned salt.

popped

Popped!

TIME

Ok. Obviously when it comes to time, Smartfoods has to win unless it takes you five minutes to open a bag!

Other than that though, I’m saying that all the methods are basically a tie. Microwaved popcorn was done a bit before my homemade version by maybe a minute. Jiffy pop actually took the longest, but we are talking a difference of a minute or two in each case.

The time it takes to pop popcorn is pretty much the same no matter what. It’s a tie!

COST

One thing I was pretty certain of going into this is that popcorn is pretty cheap. It’s less cheap though if you have someone else pop it for you!

Let’s take a look!

FOUR cents per serving is damn near free. Microwaved popcorn is also pretty cheap, but homemade popcorn is almost nothing.

COST goes to homemade!

NUTRITION

This category is a bit skewed because it’s impossible to find all the same variety of popcorn. The microwaved version I used was accidentally kettle corn. Anyway, here’s the line up!

As expected, these are all pretty similar. Except for Jiffy Pop which for some reason has an alarming amount of Trans Fat in it. I checked and doubled checked that label and for some reason it’s jam-packed with trans fat which is notorious for causing all sorts of bad things.

Other than that though, I’m going to say that all of these are basically a tie. You can nickel and dime a few things here and there, but at the end of the day popcorn is a pretty healthy snack. Not healthy like carrot sticks, of course, but within reason.

NUTRITION is a TIE! (except for Jiffy Pop)

TASTE

taste

Taste test!

As always, I was pretty nervous about taste. After all, all of these foods have teams of people engineering their taste and most of them should probably taste pretty good. Could my homemade version (in the orange bowl) stack up?

I tasted them and Betsy tasted them completely blind so her results are probably more accurate. We basically agreed though.

We both didn’t like Smartfood or Jiffy pop. Smartfood, which is a snack I thought I loved, tasted weirdly like chemicals when it was tasted next to normal popcorn. Jiffy pop on the other hand was just horrible. The only time we ever eat Jiffy pop is when we are camping and anything tastes good when you are camping!

My version and the microwaved version were both great. I would happily snack on either of them and Betsy thought the same.

CONCLUSION

When it comes to popcorn, here are my thoughts:

1) Smartfood is a rip off. It’s very expensive and didn’t taste that great stacked up against other popcorn. If you’re using popcorn as a snack, just make a big batch of it and take it in plastic bags.

2) Jiffy pop is horrible. It tastes bad and it’s bad for you.

3) Microwaved popcorn and homemade popcorn are both good and very cheap. Homemade popcorn is substantially cheaper actually (50% cheaper), but microwaved popcorn is probably a bit more convenient even though it takes about the same amount of actual time to make.

I’ll stick to my homemade popcorn I think which I can buy in bulk and season however I like.

What are your thoughts?! Do you like popcorn and how do you make it?

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43 comments on “Homemade Trials: Popcorn!

  1. I’d make popcorn more often if it could figure out how to season it. My impulse is to add just some salt and maybe Parmesan or smoked paprika, but I can never get the amounts right, or the toppings don’t stick. It ends up either tasting wrong or having way too much fat in it.

    1. Hey Flora, it’s a rough science at best… I usually start with about 1/3-1/2 teaspoon of salt for the big batch I make. Then I add a bit more season salt and some herbs. My wife’s favorite is dried oregano, parm, and seasoned salt.

      1. its very important to use popcorn salt since its very finely ground so it can get into all the nooks and crannies. for the cup size you are using for popcorn i use the same in tsp for salt. so 1/2 cup popcorn- 1/2 tsp salt. 1/4 cup popcorn- 1/4 tsp salt… and so on and so forth. also put the salt in with your oil and popcorn before you start popping so it can cover every kernel.

  2. Popcorn is my second favorite food. Right behind peanut butter. And I used to have a microwave popcorn addiction until all that news about the chemical toxins they add to the bag. I live not to far from Chester, IL, home of Popeye the Sailor Man and Gilster-Mary Lee, a large manufacturer of microwave popcorn. There are plenty of people who work at GML who have been harmed by the toxin diacetyl, which was added to enhance that buttery aroma we associate with microwave popcorn. In 2012, one study found that chemicals used on the bags of the popcorn disrupt the efficacy of childhood immunizations. These chemicals are found in the bloodstreams of 95% of adults! It’s at the point that working at Gilster Mary-Lee is about as attractive as working in a coal mine. So yes, I indulge in popcorn, but I always make it at home and I usually use a air popper.

    1. I have actually heard about this. They refer to it as “popcorn lung.” Kinda disturbing. I prefer the air-pop method as well, particularly if I’m going to add things to it (carmel corn, etc.). I will occasionally pop in a pan with a little sugar for “kettle corn” style popcorn. Yum!

  3. The homemade way is how we always did it (back in the ’60s) when I was a kid. I remember making it for my dad, melting the butter in another pan, and drizzling it over the top, then a little salt. I also remember trying Jiffy Pop once. We burnt the crap out of it, and my mom said it was too expensive anyway. We just wanted to see that foil expand.

    Have you ever tried it with a seasoned oil? I wonder if that would work…

  4. Glad to see the popcorn trial. When I was growing up we had popcorn at night while watching TV more nights than not. My mother always made it in her electric skillet and it was fantastic. Then along came microwave popcorn. I happily ate it for many years and then be came disenchanted. I started making again on the stove-top and have fallen in love again. I use an altered version of Alton Brown’s recipe. I use ghee, Indian clarified butter, instead of oil and add the salt with th corn and ghee while its popping. It’s like heaven in a bowl. Off to make some now!

    Thanks for all the great posts, I really enjoy reading your blog!

  5. I love seeing this breakdown! It makes me want to look into the nutrition of air-popped popcorn too, which is my fav. I drizzle it with a tiny bit of hot pepper infused olive oil and salt. It’s pretty much addicting.

  6. We are popcorn connoisseurs at our home! I remember my teenage boys had a bunch of friends over one night and I popped some popcorn in a hot air popper and poured a little melted butter over the top and some salt and served it not thinking a think of it-that’s how we do it. The boys raved and raved about it and I remember being just stunned and then it hit me- they have only had microwave. Also, the last several years I taught basic cooking and nutrition classes in the community and I often would go into elementary schools and for the grains lesson I would pop popcorn with my hot air machine. The kids were ooohing and ahhing as they saw saw the popcorn pop- the first couple of couple of times I did this I did not understand their amazement, but then I realized that they had never seen popcorn pop because to them it just magically comes out of the microwave bag. Really, how sad is that?!

    My boys love to make popcorn on Sunday nights. In fact, we have several flavors that we enjoy with most popular being a hot cajun spice. Mine is garlic. (We even have a plastic bin in the pantry just to hold the popcorn and the spices that we use for our favorite blends) But most of the time is just butter and salt for me.

    When we do make it on the stove top, I put about 2 T. of coconut oil in with 1/2 cup kernels and right when it’s almost done popping I will lift the lid and (quickly) add 2 T. butter that I cubed up. Turn off the heat and keep shaking the pan until the butter is melted. Shake with sea salt and HEAVEN!!

    Oh and we only use white popcorn at our house. I know, popcorn snobs…but we are okay with it.

  7. I love the ease of making it in the microwave, but stay away from chemicals when I can. The best of both worlds? Put 1/4 in a brown paper lunch sack, add a tsp olive oil, fold over three times (fairly tight folds) and pop in microwave. Got the idea from the website the Kitchn.

    Happy snacking!

  8. Oh, man! I only make my popcorn (white, not yellow) on the stove top. It is SO MUCH BETTER than anything other kind. I have a very old popper with a sloping bottom that raises the popped corn above the kernels on the bottom. Anyway, I’d read often that microwave popcorn is horrible for you, and is one of the ten items you should NEVER eat, if you care about your health. Have you heard that? Anyway, I never, ever buy microwave popcorn anymore.

    1. Mary, since you speak so strongly on this opinion (horrible, never) perhaps you could specify exactly why this is true, in your opinion.

  9. I love popcorn! I have a whirley pop. I know it takes up precious room in my kitchen versus just using a big pot, but I love it anyway. I probably only use under a tablespoon of oil for that much popcorn. Is that because a whirley pop works differently? Or is the amount of oil you use to help spices stick?

    McCormick makes an Italian herb grinder that I love to use on popcorn. Also some of the yummy cheesy powders from Savory spice shop here in Boulder (and Denver too by the way if you end up heading there!)

    1. Huh, not really sure what would be different about a whirley pop although I’ve never actually tried one. It makes me wonder if maybe I could use less oil with my method… Thanks for the comment Millie!

    2. Whirleypop is a god-send for sure. Have bought two, my old one is with the ex and the new one is with me – even converted the g/f over to the point where she wants nothing to do with the microwave stuff.

  10. I’d always made popcorn like you Nick, but a friend showed me an alternative version recently and I reckon it makes better popcorn. Add the salt at the start of the cooking, right into the oil and give it a good mix around – it coats them as they pop and you don’t need to add any at the end. The other big difference is cooking it slowly without a lid until they start popping and then once the lid is on don’t move it much, both of which are totally counterintuitive. The popcorn seems crunchier and is seasoned really well at the end. Only downside is a higher then normal method amount of wasted kernels, but equally it’s not like popcorn is expensive.

  11. Love this! I throw some kernels in a paper lunch bag (maybe 1/4c), fold over the top and pop in the microwave. There’s no real science to my method. I’m sure it would be much better with oil or if I measured something, but it seems to work. Then I season with olive oil and Old Bay. Old Bay is where it’s at.

    1. +1 to this. We pop white popcorn almost every night in brown bags. It is just corn kernels and a brown bag.

      I use 2.5oz in a smaller bag and it takes about 2 minutes. Once you take the bag out, you can melt butter in a small dish and then pour directly into the bag, add kosher salt, and shake.

      I experimented with adding oil or chocolate chips or maple syrup into the bag with the kernels. No disasters but nothing to write home about either.

  12. I never eat anything from the microwave; pretty much everything tastes better cooked other ways. I bought one of those kitschy retro-looking popcorn makers that looks like a miniature version of what’s at the theater. It makes great popcorn but so far I haven’t been able to replicate theater popcorn’s ability to be covered in butter and still crunchy!

    1. Popcorn is my #1 favorite food – LOVE it! As such, I have tried almost every way imaginable to make it: stovetop, microwave, whirley pop, air popper, mini version of the theater-type popper with the kettle above that pops into a bin below, and many other methods! So this is what I have learned over the years: the reason the theater popcorn tastes so great (buttery and crunchy) is becasue of the cooking method. The kettle where the corn is placed in the oil to pop is raised up and so when the corn pops, it falls down into the bin and doesnt stay in the environment where the steam is produced which causes the corn to become “tough” or “chewy”. Since all of us don’t have the space or $ to get this version of a popper, here is my suggestion on home popping in a pot. Add the oil and 1 corn kernel to a pot on medium heat on the stove (do not add salt to begin as I believe this also contributes to a more tough kernel when it pops). When the 1 kernel pops, the oil is ready and then add the 1/3 C of corn kernels (I like white and yellow mixed) and place a lid on top. Shake until popping begins and periodically lift the lid to allow the steam to escape. You may get a few “flyers” but it really is the best method! When popping stops about 3-5 seconds between pops, remove from heat and lift lid. Add your butter and then salt and shake up. My favorite topping is actually butter and black truffle salt with a sprinkle of grated fresh parmesean cheese. OMG! Or, truffle infused olive oil and salt and the cheese. SO GOOD! Enjoy and keep on popping!

  13. I love popcorn, too! My mom made it on the stove top all the time and it was delicious. I make my popcorn in the microwave in a lunch sack (paper) and use about a third cup of corn and fold the top over three times and be very careful it doesn’t burn!! Then, I season it with a little butter and salt and it is way better than the microwave stuff.

  14. I make popcorn often as a snack for the kids.

    I Use a large pyrex bowl covered with a tea towel for a bout 5mins, then add melted butter and salt.

    The best part is the popcorn is already in the bowl and ready to go after a few seconds to cool.

  15. I do mine with no oil in the microwave. Toss about 1/3 cup kernels in a brown paper lunch sack. fold top down tightly about 3 times and microwave until there are 3-4 seconds between pops. About 3 minutes for me. I also prefer White corn. I have sensitive gums and tummy so it’s a bit easier on me.

    I have also used a glass bowl loosely covered but for that I do use oil.Takes a bit longer though. Works better if I warm the bowl for a few minuted before I add the corn. It’s great tasting but more putzy.

  16. Here’s a vote for the Whirly Pop. We make popcorn in it several nights a week, with a small amount of olive oil and salt. I agree with adding the salt to the oil before popping, but the very fine popcorn/nut salt works well, too. I haven’t tried adding hearty herbs to the oil also – any suggestions?

    1. Whirly Pop rules. We have been through two in our ten-year marriage. They have eventually broken but after much much use. A tip . . if you have not already demonstrated your prowess, pretend that you can’t make popcorn! That’s how I’ve gotten my hubby to make it all these years. I mean, he knows I really can make popcorn, but he’s the popcorn expert :)

  17. Great post. Once when my mom was sick, my older sister (maybe 12 or 13 at the time) tried to make popcorn the only way we knew – stove top. One pan fire and burned kitchen floor later, I have never tried cooking popcorn outside of a microwave.

    I need to do it just to get that demon out of my head, but it was traumatic for a 9 year old.

  18. For me, organic white popcorn in a hot air popper! Easy, good tasting and not messy, no clean-up. Get the organic white popcorn in bulk at grocery store. Have never liked microwaved popcorn or any other micro’d food, so never was a choice. Cajun seasoning with sea salt, or garlic butter, or butter and herbs. Yum. Great snack and unless you overdo the butter, a healthy one.

  19. I love popcorn too and have been making it for 50+ years. I make it the old fashioned way on the stove top. Being health conscious I always use organic popcorn.

    Conventionally grown popcorn is highly sprayed and is full of pesticides and is to be avoided as is microwave popcorn. The harmful ingredients in microwave popcorn have been well documented; just do a bit of research folks. If you are health conscious at all the only thing you will find a microwave is good for is sterilizing sponges :)But your really don’t want one in your house. Don’t prepare food in it if you care about your health.

    Coconut oil is the healthiest oil to pop the corn in, and makes delicious popcorn that doesn’t taste like coconut. In addition to organic butter, my favorite toppings are sea salt, Tamari and Parmesan cheese. Yum!

  20. I use the presto power pop endorsed by Orville redenbaker
    You can use it with or without oil
    I use oil 1/4 cup of pop corn add some
    Sea Salt and Italian spices place it in th microwave and pop it for about 5 minuets.
    It taste great

  21. If you love the convenience of the microwave oven and want HOT popcorn (which is why I never air-pop the corn) that’s not swimming in oil, get yourself a Nordic Ware popcorn bowl. Simply add 1/3 cup (more or less), put on the lid and put in the microwave oven. 3 or so minutes (listen for the popcorn slowing down) and voila! Hot popcorn without the oil. I add seasoned salt or cheddar powder or parmesan cheese and it’s delicious and so much better for you than those commercial microwave bags of processed stuff.

  22. We had popcorn as an appetizer at a local bar last night – but WOW! t was salt and vinegar flavored. I would love to know how they got and kept the vinegar so zangy AND kept the popcorn crunchy and hot. Any ideas? I read about powdered vinegar, but the complaint seemed to be less intensity of the vinegar.

  23. Just put oil, salt, Hot Shot (red and black pepper) or cayenne and corn in pan. Cover with spatter screen or vented lid. No need to shake at all. Cook on high till popping slows a lot. Don’t wait too long or it may scorch. Dump into microwave safe bowl and nuke for about 30 seconds to add extra crispiness.

  24. I am eating a HUGE bowl of this right now. I have never started the popcorn in cold oil before – it turned out great! Everything popped up perfectly, no burns and not a single unpopped kernel! Even my cat stuck his head in the bowl and stole some! Definitely my new go-to popcorn method!

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