PRATIE PLACE

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

About popcorn

In the May 2005 issue of Discover Magazine, Joshua Foer wrote about attempts to increase popped popcorn's volume, for instance by using vacuum cookers. Since popcorn is a product bought by weight but sold by volume, success means more profit.

Popcorn of today pops twice as big as the popcorn of 50 years ago and leaves 1/4 as many unpopped kernels (called, eek, "old maids").

How popcorn works

As a kernel heats up, the moister trapped inside its pericarp (tough outer shell) vaporizes and pressure increases. The starchy endosperm (stuff inside) melts. When the pressure gets high enough, the kernel explodes, "shattering its pericarp like a shrapnel grenade. The gelatinous starch instantaneously solidifies as it leaves its shell."

The pericarp of popcorn transmits heat better than that of regular corn, and it's four times stronger, so the pressure builds up and makes a more spectacular explosion. Brazilian scientists discovered that popcorn starch gets 60% puffier than regular corn endosperm.


Foer: "The corny taste has in fact been bred out of commercial popcorn intentionally, because it conflicts with the flavor of artificial additives and because it's tough to grow big, high-yielding crops that are also tasty."

Andrew Smith, author of Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America, says "I don't think there've been improvements. There've been de-improvements. You should be able to taste a corny taste in popcorn. You could, thirty years ago. ... If you seal your nose and put today's popcorn in your mouth, it tastes like cardboard. ... Americans don't want popcorn. They want butter and salt."

If you want to try the old-fashioned stuff you can order heirloom popcorn through Crown Jewel Gourmet.

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4 Comments:

At 7:49 AM, Blogger kenju said...

Breeding the taste out of popcorn is like the floral industry: they have bred most of the fragrance out of roses in the attempt to get longer, stronger stems with fewer thorns and longer vase life. Most old-fashioned roses have a wonderful aroma, and newer varieties may as well smell like the cardboard boxes they are packed in.

 
At 8:02 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

Yum!

::fake british accent:: Daddy, daddy, I want a tub of butter and salt!

yes, Veruca; whatever you want, dear.

OOMPA, LOOMPA, OOMPA-DEE-DOO...

 
At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recap of the Discover Magazine. I knew I'd read this someplace, and I couldn't recall the company that was mentioned in the article. I'm buying some today!

 
At 6:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are not heirloom popcorns at crown jewels they are hybrids. Not the same

 

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