Puffed kernels of corn are an iconic movie-night treat, and in as little as ten-minutes you can whip up a fresh and healthy homemade batch of this affordable crunchy treat. Even better, you can season it to your heart’s content to make your movie night extra sweet!
What is popcorn?🍿
Some varieties of corn, such as sweet corn, are grown for consumption (think on the cob, canned, or frozen), others are grown to be used only as animal feed, and some varieties of corn are even grown to be used exclusively as decoration. And then there’s popcorn; a variety of corn that has been created to be transformed into fluffy flakes (the term for a kernel of popped popcorn) for our crunchy, snack-tastic enjoyment!
How does popcorn ‘pop’?
The short answer is through steam that builds up within the kernels causing them to explode when high heat is applied.♨️
The more in-depth explanation requires that we understand the structure of the humble popcorn kernel; Within the hard, outer hull is the endosperm, a starchy mass that makes up the majority of the kernel. This starchy mass serves as food for the little black dot of an embryo that can be seen on the tip of the kernel. And between these two things is a tiny water droplet 💧 that serves as the channel through which the starch is able to feed the embryo.
As you heat your popcorn kernels up that tiny water droplet begins to turn into steam which causes pressure within the hull to build up and the endosperm to swell. When that pressure reaches its breaking point, the kernel essentially explodes with such a force that the starchy endosperm gelatinizes and erupts into a flake of popcorn!💥
Fun fact: each kernel typically contains 13-14% moisture!
What is the Unpopped to Popped Ratio?
Honestly this depends on the type of kernel and the shape it pops into. For example popped mushroom kernels will yeild more popped volume than the more common yellow kernel corn for the same amount of kernels. Typically though, 1/4 cup of unpopped kernels will yield around 8 cups of popped popcorn for grocery store yellow variety corn. This is the perfect amount for 2 people to enjoy!
Is Popcorn Healthy?
Yes! Eaten in moderation, a serving size of freshly popped homemade popcorn is a great savory treat! Even better, since it’s homemade you control what gets added in to it!
Plain, unseasoned popcorn is gluten-free, high in fiber, low in fat and calories, vegan and vegetarian friendly, and clean eating. More to that, it can be made using minimal additives or none at all if you air pop (aka dry pop) them. However, since it is higher in carbs, popcorn isn’t typically recommended to those on a strict ketogenic diet.
Types and Shapes of Popcorn? 🌈🦋
There are many varieties and types of popcorn and new strains and hybrids are being created constantly. Some of the more common types you’ll find in the supermarket include yellow and white popcorn. However there are other more specialized types such as Red, Blue, and Purple. As for the taste, though slight, the various corn varieties do have slight distinctions in their flavor profiles!
Butterfly/Snowflake and Mushroom are typically the names used to describe the shapes of popcorn. Mushroom popcorn is a specialty popcorn that refers to both the shape and the type of kernel that puffs into a large ball or mushroom shape.
I’ve heard soaking popcorn kernels in a bowl of water makes them pop bigger/better, is this true?
Ah…well…not really…let’s just say “it’s complicated”.
The idea behind this is that soaking the kernels will drawn more water into it so that when heated there is more water to convert to steam which means more pressure will be created and there resulting explosion of the pop will be greater which in theory will yield more and fluffier flakes. In theory.
However, here’s why that doesn’t really work, the reason for this is twofold. By soaking the kernels you’re softening the hulls which means that you’re enabling them to be porous to take in water, the reason popcorn pops is due to the hull being hardy enough to contain the steam’s pressure until it can no longer do so and then it explodes. If your hull is porous then the internal steam will be able to escape which would actually yeild a smaller flake. More to that you’re waterlogging your kernels and forcing more than necessary water into the kernel than is needed for an optimal pop.
But there is some truth to this hack!
Old kernels can and do lose their moisture over time which renders them “unpoppable”. You can remedy this situation by adding 1 tbsp of water to container with 4 cups of unpopped kernels. Shake the container to allow each kernel to be moistened by the water and ensure that none of the water pools on the bottom of the container (you might have to agitate the container several times until all the water is distributed and absorbed) and then leave your kernels for 2-3 days to absorb that moisture and to allow the hull (outside) to dry and become nonporous so that they can pop.
Fun Fact: Kernels that do not have enough moisture and are unable to pop are called “old maids” due to the fact that they are old and dried up (harsh, I know!)
Now, after all this preamble, let’s get to it…
Here’s what you need to make this simple snack:
- Popcorn Kernels: You can use any popcorn kernel type of your choice though white and yellow are the most common types.
- Oil: I highly recommend using an unrefined virgin coconut oil as it’s the no-so-secret industry secret to making movie theater-flavored popcorn. However you can also use any clean eating cooking oil of your choosing.
Honestly, this is all you need for your popcorn base. As for toppings…well honestly the options are endless! I’ve listed some at the end of this post just before the recipe card for inspiration.
Before we get into the recipe, here are some tips and tricks to guarantee popped success:
- Use a deep, heavy-bottomed pan to allow for even heating and to give your popcorn enough space to pop in.
- Heat your oil on med-high heat. If your heat is too high your kernels will simply fry and burn VS “cook” which allows the steam to build in the kernels which allows that pop to happen.
- Add in a couple kernels to test your oil and pot’s temperature, when they pop you’ll know your pot is up to temperature.
- Don’t crowd your pot. Allow your kernels to form a single layer on the bottom of the pot, this allows each kernel to have even heating which will encourage them to pop.
- Gently shake or use a wooden spatula to stir the kernels around and coat them in the hot oil when you first add in the popcorn kernels.
- Ensure you have a lid ready and waiting to cover your pot, once your kernels are sizzling, cover your pot.
- Angle your lid ever so slightly to allow excess steam to escape, this prevents that moisture from building up in the pot which results in soggy popcorn!
- Do not walk away from your popcorn! It only takes a few minutes for popcorn to pop and mere seconds for it to start burning! Stick around and listen for the popping to slow. Once your popping is reduced to 1-2 seconds between pops, remove your pot from the heat and uncover it or immediately pour your popcorn into a bowl.
- If you smell burning at any point during popping immediately remove your pot from the heat. Steam and smoke/burning smell are two different things, steam is perfectly expected, smoke is not!
Here’s how easy it is to make popcorn:
To a deep, heavy-bottom pot on med-high heat add your coconut oil and let it melt. Once melted, add in 2 test kernels. Once they pop, reduce your heat to medium and add in the rest of your kernels and stir or shake them around to coat them in the hot oil and to help them to spread out into an even layer.
Once your kernels are sizzling, place your lid on the pot but leave it slightly ajar (be sure it’s only wide enough to allow steam to escape but not wide enough to allow the popcorn to escape!). Standby as your corn pops.
Once the popping slows to 1-2 pops per second, remove your pot from the heat and uncover it. Pour your popcorn into a bowl and season it however you like. Now comes the best part, enjoying your amazing treat!
Now that you have your popcorn popped and waiting to be seasoned, here are some great options:
- Plain: There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the full, unadulterated flavor of fresh popped corn which I know might sound crazy to some but I stand by it! 😅
- Salted: You can use any kind of salt you like from a pink Himalayan to a sea salt or even a smoked salt. Whichever salt you opt for a great trick is to fine grind it into a powder to allow for better coverage and absorption by the popcorn. A great tip is to salt your popcorn immediately after it has been popped and is still warm.
- Buttered (and salted): If you’re going to butter your popcorn I highly recommend using clarified butter (Ghee) as it gives you a pure butter flavor without making your popped corn too soggy (which can happen when you use regular butter due to the fats and milk solids in it). However regular butter can be used as well if you don’t have ghee on hand and it will be just as delicious. Paired with finely ground salt and you have a classic win!
- Spiced: Your choice of spices and spice blends are honestly endless and are entirely up to you, but to list a few examples you can mix and match to create:
- Powdered lime and chili for a Mexican-inspired blend.
- Curry powder (You can use your favorite kind but use just a tiny amount).
- A blend of garlic and herbs on buttered popcorn for a play on garlic bread.
- Pumpkin spice blend (a mix of powdered sugar, clove, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg).
- Gingerbread blend (a mix of powdered sugar and ground ginger spice with the tiniest touch of ground clove).
- Cinnamon Toast Blend (a mix of cinnamon powder and powdered sugar).
- Cocoa powder and powdered sugar.
- Chinese 5 spice or Japanese 7 spice blend.
- Everything Bagel seasoning.
- Salt and vinegar (tip: dissolve the salt in the vinegar and use a super fine mister to spritz your popcorn for the best coverage without the sogginess!)
- Cheese: I highly recommend using a finely grated hard cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano. Alternatively you can make your own by dehydrating any hard or semi-hard cheese and then processing it into a fine powder using a high powered blender or coffee grinder.
- Caramel: Caramel corn isn’t exactly the best of the healthiest thing for you, I think we can all agree on that, but in the same breath I say that I will add that it is undeniably delicious and so easy to make! Even better, caramel corn can be taken a step further by making them into popcorn balls or by adding other things to it to make versions such as Chocolate striped with nuts or the more iconic Zebra popcorn.
What else do you like to top your popcorn with? Let us know in the comments below! Until next time, guys! Happy popping! 🍿💕
Perfect Movie-Night Popcorn
- 1/4 cup popcorn kernels makes approx 6-7 cups once popped
- 1 tbsp coconut oil solid
To season: 1-2 tbsp melted ghee (clarified butter) OR regular butter & finely ground salt (to taste).
- Set a deep, heavy bottom pot on med-high heat.
- Add the coconut oil, and once melted, add in 2 kernels of corn, when they've popped, lower your heat to medium, add in the rest of the kernels, and gently shake or stir to cover them in the oil.
- Once the kernels are sizzling, cover your pot with a lid that's set at a slight angle to allow steam to escape but not wide enough to cause the kernels to escape the pot. Once popping slows to 1-2 per second, remove the pot from the heat and remove the lid. Serve plain or butter and salt to suit your taste.
- To Butter your Popcorn: Pour your popcorn into a bowl and lightly drizzle or drip some of your melted ghee (clarified butter) over the popcorn (letting it drip off the tines of a fork is a great way to distribute the butter) before tossing and drizzling more. Sprinkle with finely blended salt and toss once more, taste and adjust. Enjoy!
- The amount of popped popcorn you get depends on the kernel and type of corn. For example a mushroom popcorn will produce more in popped volume than a smaller grain white kernel corn will.
- You can pop your popcorn in a mixture of coconut oil and ghee (clarified butter NOT regular butter) to give it more of a movie theater flavor right out of the pot.
- Use a fine grind of salt to allow it to stick to your popcorn better.
- The calculated nutrition does NOT include the seasoning of ghee/butter and salt.