Cooking and Eating Those Crazy Kernels
If you love popcorn, you might have wondered what makes it pop in pans or popcorn makers.
Popcorn is a whole grain that is a type of maize or corn, and it has three central components: the hull, the endosperm and the germ. Other types of corn don’t pop because their hulls are not quite the right thickness, so popcorn is intriguingly unique. Inside a popcorn kernel, a drop of water sits inside soft starch, which itself sits inside the kernel’s hard exterior.
The water expands as the temperature of the kernel increases, and when it reaches 212 degrees the water becomes steam that transforms the kernel’s starch into hot liquid. At 347 degrees, the pressure inside the grain is great enough to burst open the kernel’s hull, releasing the steam and allowing the starchy interior to swell. Surprisingly, the popcorn you’re used to eating is actually almost 50 times the size of the original kernel.
Although popcorn is delicious and has a long, distinguished history, many people struggle to cook it properly. For example, it is often burned in the cooking process or most of the kernels are left uncooked. Here are the four steps you need to follow to make a perfect portion of popcorn in a stove-top popcorn making pan:
- Warm the pan or popper. If you are going to use oil to make popcorn, heating about 1/4 cup to between 400 and 460 degrees should do the trick. However, make sure your oil doesn’t get hotter than 500 degrees, as it’ll start to burn at this temperature. Similarly, don’t try to use butter to pop your popcorn, as it will smoke and burn.
- Drop just a couple of kernels into the oil to see whether they will pop. If they do, cover the bottom of the pan with kernels and move the pan around to ensure that each kernel gets covered in oil.
- If some kernels don’t pop, it means they don’t contain enough water to create the necessary pressure buildup.
- Popcorn that doesn’t pop may be treated by placing it in a jar with a tablespoon of water for a few days. Shaking the jar will help the popcorn absorb the moisture and after 3-4 days it should be ready to pop.
Using a popcorn machine
Popcorn makers are even better than ever, with some of the best modern machines producing deliciously fluffy kernels every time. To get the very best results, there are a few things you need to know:
- Make sure your popcorn isn’t past its expiration date, as it may not pop (and will tend to produce unpleasantly chewy kernels if it does pop).
- Use a bowl high enough to touch the end of the machine’s chute, as you’ll end up with popcorn all over the kitchen if the chute isn’t close enough to the bowl.
- When almost all the kernels have popped, turn your popcorn maker off to prevent the last batch of kernels from burning.
Article by Lisa Carnes, a homemaker who loves to entertain and cook for her friends and family. When she finds something new or helpful, she likes to share it on the web. You can find her posts on a number of websites and blogs.