Pop Secrets: The A-maiz-ing World of Popcorn - Joy of Kosher

Pop Secrets: The A-maiz-ing World of Popcorn

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My relationship with popcorn started innocently enough.  When I was younger, I began seeing Orville Redenbacher.  As I grew older, I discovered Paul Newman. He was hard to let go of, but over the past couple of years I found new varietals popping up in the grocery store and farmer's market.  With names like Autumn Blaze, Sunset Fire, Blue Heron and Black Hills, popcorn has gone gourmet.

Popcorn varieties are broadly categorized by either the shape or color of the kernels, or the shape of the popped corn.  While the kernels may come in a variety of colors, the popped corn is always off-yellow or white.  According to the Star-K, raw kernels do not require kosher certification.

Since I started experimenting with different varieties, I am amazed at the differences in taste and texture.  I also love the fact that for a few pennies per cup and under a hundred calories, popcorn is one of the most economical and healthful snack choices around.

Popcorn is different from other types of corn in that its hull has just the right thickness to allow it to burst open.  Each kernel of popcorn contains a small drop of water stored inside a circle of soft starch.  As the kernel heats up, the water begins to expand.  The kernel continues to heat to about 350 degrees before the hull bursts open.  As it explodes, the steam inside the kernel is released and the soft starch inside the popcorn inflates and spills out, cooling immediately to form the unique shape we all seem to crave.

According to The Popcorn Board, Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually, which amounts to approximately 52 quarts per person.

Popcorn is lower in calories than most snack foods.  Air-popped popcorn has only 30 calories per cup.  When oil-popped, it contains only 55 calories.  Popcorn is a whole grain food which makes it a high-quality carbohydrate source that is not only low in calories, but high in fiber.  This means it takes longer to chew and makes you feel full longer.

Joyofkosher member Amfram credits popcorn for helping her lose weight. “I eat popcorn most evenings because it keeps me from eating potato chips and pretzels," confesses Amfram, "popcorn with spray butter and seasoned salt is the perfect cure for my crunch obsession.”

In order to qualify as a healthy alternative to other snack foods, you will to have to stay away from the popcorn available at the movie theater. According to a November 2009 study commissioned by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, the medium and large size popcorn available at Regal, the country’s biggest movie theater chain, each had 1,200 calories and a whopping 60 grams of saturated fat!

The editorial team at


have been pop stars for quite a while. Here are our secrets for perfect popping:

If using the stove…

Warm a 3 to 4 quart pan or a wok with a lid. Add approximately 3 tbsp. of vegetable oil to the pan, just enough to cover the bottom.

Drop in two or three kernels and cover with the lid. When the kernels pop, add the whole 1/3 cup popcorn.  Pour just enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan. Again, cover with the lid.

Shake the pan while the kernels heat and pop.  Occasionally lift the lid slightly to allow steam to escape.  When you hear the last few pops, remove the pan from the heat immediately, take off the lid and empty the popped popcorn into a large bowl. Salt or season to taste. Pre-salting kernels toughens the popcorn, so salt after or try it salt-free with other spices.

For easy microwave popping…

Open a brown paper bag, add 1/4 cup kernels, fold over the top of the bag about ½ inch, and pop like you would a store-bought brand.

Heat for 2-3 minutes or experiment with your microwave’s popcorn setting.

What I love most about popcorn is its simplicity -- after all, it's just a single popped kernel of corn.  However, with a little creativity, the sweet and savory combinations are endless and it can be a delicious accompaniment to an assortment of appetizers or part of a decadent dessert.  We share a few of our favorite recipes below and we hope you will post some of your pop secrets with us.

Lemon Pepper and Parmesan Popcorn

Five-Spice Popcorn

Honey Peanut Butter and Chocolate Popcorn