Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Stovetop Popcorn Is Still Possible

I love microwave popcorn, but I can live without it.

Popcorn I suppose you've heard the bad news about microwave popcorn. Some people who've worked in popcorn factories have a serious lung condition from inhaling the chemical, diacetyl.

Opinions vary about how much a typical user of microwave popcorn is at risk. It seems prudent to avoid inhaling the steam as much as possible.

Due to the worker safety and possible consumer health issues, I've been thinking that we should give up microwave popcorn until they stop putting diacetyl in it. I have a couple boxes of microwave popcorn on hand, but when they're gone, maybe I'll just get a bag of regular popcorn.

On the other hand, I hope that microwave popcorn companies don't lose so much business that they go broke, causing all the workers to lose their jobs!

We used to make air-popped corn, and before that, stove-top popcorn. I don't think I have my air popper anymore, but I do still have my cast iron skillets.

All you need to make popcorn in a skillet is

  • a little cooking oil
  • popcorn to cover the bottom of the pan 1 kernel thick
  • a lid
  • medium-high heat
  • patience and vigilance

It takes at least five minutes before the popping starts. When the corn finally begins popping, shake the skillet sideways constantly to keep the corn from burning. Listen carefully, and when the popping stops, take the popcorn off the stove immediately and dump it into a bowl.

With all that pan-rattling, stovetop popcorn is a noisy project. I'll bet many of us have happy memories of that sound, though.

My mother used to make caramelized popcorn. She added a bit of sugar, and she popped it with vigorous pan-shaking. I don't know how she avoided burning the sugar -- I can't do it! Sometimes, I get a bag of kettle corn at a fair or carnival, and it reminds me of my mother's popcorn.

Later, when I was in college, I had a little electric popcorn popper. It was an electric heat coil and a pan that fit onto it. Many of the girls in the dormitory had them, and every evening, the smell of popcorn filled the hallways. Often, it was the smell of burnt popcorn. Those electric coils had no thermostat.

We had an air popper when our kids were younger, and they made many big bowls of popcorn with it. Air-popped corn is bland, so they spritzed it with Pam® cooking spray and dumped salt on it, to add flavor. Most of the salt could be found in the bottom of the bowl when the popcorn was gone.

Unfortunately, the old methods of making popcorn produce dirty dishes. That's one of the reasons that microwave popcorn has become so popular in my home and across the nation. I hope they get this diacetyl problem solved soon.

Popcorn popularity high despite cautions

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Limey said...

Sadly I'm a fan of peanut crunch and munch (but don't tell my dentist). Even sadder is that they don't sell it over here - or anything close to it. :(

Genevieve said...

There are some pretty good recipes for homemade crunch and munch popcorn. My sister used to make some that was good. If I come across her recipe, I'll post it.

John Ruberry said...

Keeping the pots clean (burnt oil) is a struggle, too.

Limey said...

Thanks Genevieve, I hope you find it, I'm sure the children will love to get involved.

Genevieve said...

You're right, John. All in all, it's just not as easy to make stove-top popcorn.

I will try to remember where that recipe might be, Limey. I have a vague mental image of it being pasted into one of my notebooks.

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