Let’s Talk Food: Popcorn 101

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Mushroom popcorn, which is excellent for making caramel popcorn.

Popcorn is a comfort food and a good snack in the afternoon, often while watching TV.

It is a whole grain and high in dietary fiber. High in simple carbohydrates, it quickly raises our serotonin levels, which helps you relax and improves your mood.

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We know of the popping corn we buy at the supermarket, but did you know there are several popcorn varieties?

1. Butterfly or snowflake popcorn is the type we know of as theater-style or home-popped popcorn. It is known for its maximum crunch and freshness.

2. Mushroom popcorn is great for making caramel popcorn. Perfectly round, and sturdy, it withstands the processes of candy coating and works well with cheese coatings also. It can be ordered online from Amazon. We ordered the Hoosier Hill Farm Gourmet Mushroom popping corn. It got totally popped in our house fire, and we need to order it again as I like this variety of popcorn.

3. Carousel is multicolored corn and often used for ornamental use. When popped, the tiny kernels make for a tender and crispy popcorn, with a very thin hull. Dried and ground, it makes great cornmeal. Look for seeds at True Leaf Market to plant in your garden.

4. Glass Gem is also multicolored and used for ornamental uses. It makes great popcorn and cornmeal. You can find Glass Gem at Burpee Seeds.

5. Heirloom is the perfect corn for popping as it preserves well and continues to pop well for a year. These seeds are available from Eden Brothers.

6. Heirloom Strawberry looks just like large red strawberries and the kernels for popping are ruby red. The seeds can be purchased from Heirloom Seeds.

7. Robust Yellow Hulles Hybrid pops with thin hulls and easy popping. Seeds are available from Mountain Valley Seed Company.

8. Shaman’s Blue is a winner in looks and taste, and has blue kernels that pop into perfect large, white and sweet popcorn. Several farms such as Everwilde Farms, American Seed Co. and Reimer Seeds sell seeds for planting.

9. Snow Puff makes delicious, sweet, white popcorn with exceptionally thin hulls. I ordered 100 seeds to plant as it is described as “the best tasting and most tender popcorn ever. Hull-less too, and the huge size it expands to when popped will amaze you. A tremendous yielder. Plant 6 to 8 pounds per acre.”

Store kernels in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, not in the refrigerator, where they will dry out. Kernels need moisture to pop. If your kernels are starting to dry out, place them in water and drain well before popping.

Cover the pot loosely during popcorn. If the lid is tight, the steam inside will moisten the popcorn, and there is nothing worse than wet popcorn.

Salt the popcorn after it is popped. Your popcorn will not be light and fluffy if you salt it before.

Great toppings include furikake and arare, powdered cheese and Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast Seasoning. You can also make it with Indian seasonings such as ground cumin, curry powder and salt, or Italian seasonings such as dried oregano, dried basil and grated Parmesan cheese.

To make homemade microwave popcorn, place 1/4 cup unpopped kernels in a brown paper lunch bag. Fold the top over tightly a few times, microwave on high for about 2 minutes, or until the popping slows, which depends on your microwave.

Movie theater butter popcorn uses butter-flavored oil, which has a lower water content than real butter so your popcorn will not get too soggy. Make clarified butter to have the same effects as butter-flavored oil.

Melt two sticks of butter in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. Let it sit for a few minutes; the butter will separate in three layers. Skim off the first layer of foam, which is water evaporating. The second layer is the clarified butter, which is the part you want. Carefully pour that into a heat-proof container. Discard the last layer of milk solids. Use 3 tablespoons of hot clarified butter for 10 cups of popcorn. Refrigerate any remaining clarified butter.

Caramel corn is a decadent snack. Use the mushroom popcorn for best results. Boil 1/2 cup honey, 1 tablespoon molasses, 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Toss with 10 cups of mushroom popcorn. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees until crispy, 10-15 minutes, checking often. Cool completely.

So I wrote that it is a healthy snack … but what happens when you add all the tasty ingredients?

One cup of air-popped corn is only 31 calories, 1 cup of oil-popped corn is 55 calories and when you add 2 teaspoons of melted butter it is 122 calories. A half bag of “light butter” microwave popcorn is 180 calories, a small movie-theater popcorn without butter is 400 calories, add the butter-flavored oil and the calories jump to 630! A large movie-theater popcorn without the butter-flavored oil is 1,160 calories and with butter 1,640 calories!

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So enjoy making your own popcorn at home.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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