Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brown Bag Microwave Popcorn

I first saw this idea for popping naked popcorn in your microwave on Pinterest about a year ago. At first I was skeptical, but then I remembered something in a fun science book my daughter has called "Why does popcorn pop?" Popcorn doesn't pop because of the oil or butter it's popped in, but because heating up the kernels causes the water inside each kernel to turn to steam, expand, and eventually burst the outer layer, called the pericarp.

Popping popcorn in a brown bag in your microwave is amazing because it is a lot cheaper than commercial microwave popcorn--even if you buy the expensive brand of popcorn, there is less to throw away than commercial microwave popcorn, you completely avoid all of the trashy ingredients and chemicals that are in the "butter" in commercial microwave popcorn, and you can put whatever you want on it. My favorites are plain, melted butter with salt, melted butter with salt and pepper, and melted butter with cinnamon and sugar. All huge wins. This is also how I make popcorn to use for Caramel Popcorn (recipe coming soon!).

The method I tried first said to put the popcorn in a brown bag and cook it on high for 2 minutes. Ever smell burned popcorn? Yeah. 2 minutes on high was a bit much. So, being the food geek that I am, I made 6 more bags of popcorn to figure out what was the right temperature and the right time to pop the most kernels without burning what was already popped. For my microwave, which is a 1200w unit, it ended up being 2 minutes on 70% power. You may need to experiment a bit with your microwave to find the right combination of time and power, since microwaves are all a bit different.

I also experimented with different amounts of kernels to see how far I could push it without the popcorn starting to burn and without having a ton of unpopped kernels:

Totally Unscientific Brown-Bag Microwave Popcorn Experiment

1/4 cup kernels, 2 mins, 70% power = 8 cups popped
1/2 cup kernels, 3:15 mins, 60% power = 10 cups popped
1/2 cup kernels, 4:30 mins, 50% power = 11 cups popped
1/2 cup kernels 4:45 mins, 50% power = 12 cups popped, almost burned

End the end I decided that it doesn't really save you anything to pop more kernels in the bag because you have more kernels that don't pop, and an increased chance of the popcorn burning while you try to pop as many kernels as you can. So If I want lots of popcorn, I do two (or more) batches of 1/4 cup kernels.

Of course, then I had to take it further and test brands of popcorn. Is the more expensive brands worth buying? I bought Orville, Pop Secret, Jolly Time, and Great Value (Wal-Mart). I popped 1/4 cup kernels of each brand for 2 minutes at 70% power. I found that Orville and Pop Secret popped up the biggest and tasted the best, Jolly Time popped up surprisingly small and tasted fine, and the Great Value label from Wal-Mart not only popped up small, but also tasted stale and and was super disappointing. My conclusion is buying the more expensive brand is better--it will still be less than buying commercial microwave popcorn, and you'll also get all of the benefits I listed above.

Brown-Bag Microwave Popcorn

1 brown lunch sack
1/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
toppings of your choice

Put the popcorn kernels in the brown back and fold down the top several times. Put the bag in your microwave with the back standing up. Cook for 2 minutes on 70% power. **There is a lot of steam in the bag once the popping is done, so be super careful when you open it up. Top with melted butter and salt, or other toppings of your choice and enjoy!

(Remember you may need to experiment with your microwave for time and power.)

Makes about 8 cups popped corn.

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