Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Popcorn Deconstruction

I remember getting our first VCR as a kid and, later, our first DVD player. They were huge and expensive. Now you can't even find a VCR in stores, and you can pick up a DVD player for $30 at Wal-Mart. But it was a red-letter day when we got a microwave. It took up an entire corner of the kitchen. I and my three siblings stood around in awe, taking turns wondering how it worked and what would happen if we microwaved various items--none of them food. Luckily that microwave lasted long enough to see the age of microwave popcorn. No more kettle on the stove. No more big yellow popcorn popper that never seemed to work quite right. We could open the box, unwrap the little white bag and in minutes we had hot, buttery popcorn.

As an adult now, I have a son who takes the microwave and microwave popcorn for granted. Popcorn is Lincoln (and his Daddy's) favorite snack and one I don't mind indulging. I almost forgot about that old yellow popcorn popper myself until I was standing in the snack aisle at the grocery store the other day, contemplating the microwave popcorn selection. Movie Theater butter. Well, that doesn't sound very good. Kettle Corn. Too much sugar. Light butter. Yeah, they'll spot that a mile away and it will sit on the shelf until it...does popcorn decompose? Grow sprouts?

I tried reading the labels to help narrow my choice. Hydrogenated what? Diacetyl who? This synthetic butter has been linked to lung diseases in factory workers. If my kid is going to eat a bag of it a day I want to know what's in it, and I don't want to pay a fortune for it. The problem, in addition to content, is that half the regular-sized bag goes to waste and the selection of 100 calorie bags is even skimpier. When I'd spent a good three minutes staring at popcorn labels, I knew it was time for change. Being a good DIYer, I grabbed a 32 oz bag of popping corn for $1.50 and moved on.

At home, I read the directions on the back of the bag, which called for 1/4 cup of oil in a pan and a 1/4 cup kernels. I cut it back to about 2 TB oil, just enough to coat the pan, turned on the gas, put in one kernel as per instructions, and covered the pan with a glass lid. Linc stood on a stool next to me and patiently watched the kernel. We could see it changing and when it popped, Linc laughed and clapped and gobbled it up. We put in the rest and watched them shoot around the pan like fireworks. Linc got out our popcorn cups (the big, red and white striped POPCORN servers you can get at Target in their $1 section). We melted a couple of TBs of Smart Balance spread, tossed it in with the popped corn, sprinkled it with sea salt and portioned it out. We had enough popcorn for 6 people, so next time will use less. Rich and I put Italian seasoning on ours (a garlic salt, herbs and pepper mix). The texture was crunchier but there were fewer of those kernels that get stuck in your teeth like microwave popcorn. I actually don't usually eat popcorn. I hate those kernels and it just doesn't taste good to me. But this I liked.

Cost: Old fashioned popcorn--32 oz bag, 108 cups of popcorn, $1.57 bag. Or about $.01/cup (plus any expense of toppings, but since you keep salt and butter around anyway it's hard to calculate any added cost to you).
Microwave popcorn--8 bags, 80 cups of popcorn, around $5.00 a box. Or about $.05/cup.

Does anyone else see the irony in this return to the essentials? We have a technology that is supposed to make our lives simpler and we end up going back to the original way we did things. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a sweeping national craze, just our family. And the microwave stays and we still eat microwave popcorn. But it's a whole lot of fun and a lot healthier to eat popcorn the old fashioned way.

1 comment:

  1. I love it!!! Austin and I are committed to making healthy choices for our family and teaching our kids to be health conscious as well through regular exercise and making smart choices about food. We do whole grains, lots of fresh veggies and fruits, and do the old fashioned popcorn too. :) I'm looking into some local co-ops for fresh fruits, veggies and meats but it's all a bit expensive. A monthly trip to Trader Joe's and weekly trip to Kroger will have to do for now.


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