Thursday, June 10, 2010

Veggie Might: DIY Microwave Popcorn - Reinventing the Wheel

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Three things are guaranteed when I try to make something from scratch:
  1. After having a Brilliant Idea, I will attempt it with only minimal planning.
  2. There will a mess/tears/fire.
  3. I will discover someone else has successfully accomplished my task (and published instructions) before me, rendering 1 & 2 unnecessary.
I’ve been on a popcorn kick lately, and I’m not a fan of the microwave variety (too expensive, processed butter-gunk). Normally, I make it from scratch in a big pot on the stove.

But as you know, if you’ve made popcorn the old-fashioned way, you have to watch it carefully, shaking the pot to keep the kernels from scorching. Why, I wanted to know, couldn’t I have my supa-natural homemade popcorn in a convenient microwave package (and without the added clutter of an air popper)?

My thought train followed this approximate track: Microwave popcorn is in a paper bag. I have those. Microwave popcorn bags are sealed with glue. I have that. Staples would probably set the microwave on fire. I’ve done that before and would not like to repeat. Okay let’s do this.

On my first attempt, I recycled a small brown paper bag (named Testela) from a local bakery. I put in 2 tbsp of popcorn, sealed it with a tiny bit of basic white glue, and set the micro for 4 minutes, just like for store bought. Just about all the kernels popped—not at all like store bought.

That’s right. No mess, no tears, no fire. Just delicious, perfectly popped popcorn—the perfect amount for one person, about 2 and 1/2 cups. Wheel: reinvented.

On subsequent attempts, I tried bigger bags and more popcorn with varied success—and dispensed with the glue. Folding over the edge is enough to keep the bag closed while popping.

The key to microwave popcorn success is matching the size of the bag to the amount of popcorn you want to pop, yet allowing the carousel in the microwave to turn as the bag expands. Stationary popcorn is burnt popcorn. Lunch-sized bags seem to work best.

The largest bag I tried, a mid-sized, take-out bag named Sandra Kilcan (seriously, check the bottom the next time you get a paper bag with your tea and muffin) was a bit too large for my microwave.

She got stuck in the spin of the carousel, and some of the kernels burnt while cooking. But a quick smoosh of the bag to push in the corners got things turning again. After 4 minutes, I dumped out the cooked kernels, and reheated the remainders for 2 more minutes.

That’s right. I broke the cardinal rule of microwave popcorn. I dumped out the popped kernels and REHEATED THE UNPOPPED KERNELS! And do you know what happened? Almost all of THOSE KERNELS POPPED! Take that Big Popcorn! Six minutes to nearly perfect popcorn.

Still, I recommend using a smaller bag and sticking with at 1/4 cup or less. That way you don’t have to hover, which is the whole point. Save time, save money, and save that butter-gunk for someone else.

Let’s recap:

DIY Microwave Popcorn

1) Recycle a small paper bag, preferably one with a cool name like Rocco Martinez.

2) Fill with 1/4 cup popcorn kernels. Fold over the edge and place in the microwave with the flap-side down.

3) Microwave on high up to 4 minutes. Check to make sure the carousel is turning. If your bag gets stuck, open the microwave and give it a little nudge, folding or reshaping the bag if necessary.

4) When the popping stops, dump the popped kernels into a bowl. Reheat any remaining kernels for up to 2 minutes.

5) Combine all the popcorn and season as desired. (I like mine sprinkled with a little salt and nutritional yeast—vegan cheesy.) Save the bag for another go.

6) Enjoy your delicious, healthy popcorn, free from processed butter-gunk and save some serious scratch.

Nutrition and Cost Comparison
Newman’s Own Butter Flavor Microwave Popcorn
3.5 cup serving: Calories: 170, Fat: 11g, Fiber:3g, Protein: 2g, $.96

DIY Microwave Popcorn 1/4 tbsp = 5 cups popcorn
5 cup total: Calories: 124, Fat: 2g, Fiber: 4g, Protein: 4g, $.08
2.5 cup serving: Calories: 62, Fat: 1g, Fiber: 2g, Protein: 2g, $.04

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Anonymous said...

What kind of pop corn did you use -- Orville Whatsit, or bulk?? Definitely want to try this!

Jorge said...

This method is in one of Alton Brown's books too. This might surprise you, but 2 (and only 2) staples will work. There is not enough metal to cause a problem with your microwave. Just space them at the ends of the bag.

I find this to be one of the strangest secrets about popcorn. You save so much money and you don't need oil!

Maria Sol said...

I am so happy to have found this!

1. Shower
2. Brush kids teeth
3. Head over to the grocery store for paper bags!!

Anonymous said...

Let the revolution begin.

I will definately being trying this recipe when I visit family this weekend.

Charity said...

My microwave doesn't have a turntable - does this mean I shouldn't even attempt?

Anonymous said...

Those frustrating Macy's ads are covering half the page again!

Dustin D'Addato said...

Walmart has a bowl that does that too. So all the same numbers, but with washable ready to eat in bowl. I discovered it recently and it's awesome.

Anonymous said...

While the bag works, a greener solution is to buy a microwave popcorn popper. Mine is a squarish bowl with a conical bottom, concentrating the popcorn kernels, and a plastic lid that sits up to vent steam. Cost me about $15 ten years ago, and still going strong. You can dry pop, or pop with a little oil or butter flavor spray, and it doubles as a serving bowl. No hunting for paper bags or throwing them away.

Anonymous said...

We've done this with paper bags, but am wondering, how do you get the seasonings to adhere to the popped corn, without using oil?

Or should i just suck it up and spray a little water/oil on it?

Leigh said...

Hey y'all,
First, I spotted a typo I'd like to address.

The Nutrition/Cost Comparison should read:
DIY Microwave Popcorn 1/4 tbsp = 5 cups popcorn
5 cup total: Fat: 2g,
2.5 cup serving: Fat: 1g

I typed them in backwards.

On to the comments...

Anon 1: I use popcorn from the bulk bins at my local natural food store. It's usually around $1.39/lb.

Jorge: Thanks for sharing! I read about the staple thing after I'd gone rogue, but with my history of microwave fires (2), I opted to play it safe.

Charity: I think you can still give it a go, you just may need to keep an eye on things. Maybe give it a shake halfway through...

Dustin (hey wassup!) and Anon 4: Cool about the bowls. I'll check it out. I wonder if any microwave-safe serving bowl would work?

Maria Sol and Anon 2: Yay! Let us know how it goes.

Anon 3: What browser are you using? I use Firefox, and I don't see them.

Sheila said...

Hi! I'm new to your blog, but had to comment that this is the coolest thing and I'll be trying it with my kids this weekend!

Rachel said...

I highly recommend a good spritz of Bragg's Liquid Aminos in place of butter/oil, and then a generous shake of nutritional yeast. This is still my favorite way to eat popcorn from way back in my vegan days!!!

Katie said...

I make my popcorn like this all the time. I just showed my mom how to do it too. I can't believe more people don't know about it - those microwave popcorn people are going to hunt you down for exposing their dirty little secret! :)

AJP said...

I won an air popper at my high school graduation party. I thought it was kind of a lame prize. 15 years later, it's still going strong! But it is another appliance in the kitchen!

Liz said...

For those of you with the popcorn bowls, are those safe to use in a microwave with no turntable? Thanks!

Jennifer Jacobs said...

I've been doing this for a few years--before that I popped it on the stove. Can't handle the smell of the commercial microwaved bags. I can attest you need nothing to secure the top of the bag--fold it once or twice--I've never had to clean up popcorn from inside the microwave.

A couple other things: I've gone up to 1/3 cup of kernels at a time, in a lunch-sized bag (I use the kind they wrap your wine in, though not the really skinny kind--I usually turn those down, but when I need a new one, I just don't say anything). Also, since everything is dry, you can reuse the bag over and over, making it a lot greener.

I'm always trying to help spread the word about this!

Anonymous said...

Fun, but a quick question: the nutritional informations says 1/4 TBSP = 5 cups? Should that be 1/4 cup?

Kat said...

Good lordy, this is the best news I've read all day.

Kristine said...

I didn't know that oil wasn't required. Hmmm, I think I have popping corn in my food storage somewhere . . . .

Leigh said...

Anon 5 -- Yes, I spray on a little oil after popping for salt and nooch to stick.

Anon 6 -- Yes! Sorry about that. The nutritional info should be 1/4 cup = 5 cups of popcorn.

Thanks y'all, and keep poppin'.