Iris and I were walking home from school the other day and I suggested we watch a movie in the afternoon. "We should get some popcorn," Iris said. I agreed. We stopped at the drugstore, where I looked for the familiar bag of Jolly Time. No dice—it was all microwave bags. I managed to find one "natural" brand containing no artificial butter flavor, and it was good enough to get me through Duck Tales: The Movie.
But the next day, I bought a bag of the old-fashioned stuff and popped it on the stove. Iris hung out by the edge of the kitchen, afraid of flying kernels and the clatter of the pot lid. When it was ready, I poured it into a bowl and salted it liberally. The improvement over microwave popcorn was obvious, and while we crunched it, I speculated about why oil-popped corn is superior and came up with three ideas.
- While the microwave popcorn box sits on the shelf, the oil starts going rancid.
- On the stove top, already-popped kernels have little contact with the oil, whereas the microwave continues to pump energy into the whole bag, resulting in a slightly burned batch at best. I also wonder whether the microwave does bad things to the texture of the white, fluffy part of the kernel. More investigation is needed.
- The comparison was unfair to start with, because the microwave popcorn was made with industrial palm oil, while I popped my stove-top corn in sweet, golden lard.
Would an enterprising Harold McGee type like to weigh in?
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