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Living Well In Yalobusha County

Popcorn Can Be A Nutritional Snack

By Pamela Redwine

I love popcorn as an afternoon snack. It is so delicious, filling and nutritious too.  For more, than 25 years, October has been celebrated as National Popcorn Poppin’ Month. So, while everyday is a great day for celebrating popcorn, the month of October is chosen because of the popcorn harvest which takes place each fall in the Midwest. Each year when the new crop is harvested, we are reminded that popcorn is a naturally fun snack for the entire family!

Popcorn is a type of corn which explodes from the kernel and puffs up when heated. Corn popping was originally discovered by Native Americans, but became popular as a snack food during the United States Great Depression, especially in movie theaters.

Many theatre owners refused to sell popcorn in their theatres because they felt it was too messy. Industrious vendors set up popcorn poppers or rented storefront space next to theatres and sold popcorn to patrons on their way into the theatre.  Eventually, theatre owners began installing popcorn poppers inside their theatres; those who refused to sell popcorn quickly went out of business.

During the depression, 5 and 10 cent bags of popcorn were one of the few luxuries families could afford. Unlike other confections, popcorn sales increased throughout the Depression.

How Popcorn pops

Each kernel of popcorn contains a certain amount of moisture and oil.  Unlike most other grains, the outer hull of the popcorn kernel is both strong and impervious to moisture, and the starch inside consists almost entirely of a hard, dense type.

As the oil and the water are heated past the boiling point, they turn the moisture in the kernel into a superheated pressurized steam, contained within the moisture-proof hull. Under these conditions, the starch inside the kernel gelatinizes, softening and becoming pliable. The pressure continues to increase until the breaking point of the hull is reached: a pressure of about 135 psi and a temperature of 356 degrees F.  

The hull ruptures rapidly, causing a sudden drop in pressure inside the kernel and a corresponding rapid expansion of steam, which expands the starch and proteins of the endosperm into airy foam.  As the foam rapidly cools, the starch and protein polymers set into the familiar crispy puff.

Expansion and yield

Popping results are sensitive to the rate at which the kernels are heated. If heated too quickly, the steam in the outer layers of the kernel can reach high pressures and rupture the hull before the starch in the center of the kernel can fully gelatinize, leading to partially popped kernels with hard centers. Heating too slowly leads to entirely unpopped kernels; the tip of the kernel, where it attached to the cob, is not entirely moisture-proof, and when heated slowly, the steam can leak out of the top fast enough to keep the pressure from rising sufficiently to break the hull and cause the pop.

Nutritional Value

Air-popped is naturally high in fiber, low in calories and fat, contains no sodium, and is sugar free.  This can make it an attractive snack to people with dietary restrictions on the intake of calories, fat, and/or sodium.  For the sake of flavor, however, large amounts of fat, sugar, and sodium are often added to prepared popcorn, which can quickly convert it to a very poor choice for those on restricted diets.

Health Risks

Popcorn is included on the list of food that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not serving to children under four, because of the risk of choking.  Special “hulless” popcorn has been developed that offers an alternative for small children and for people with braces or other dental problems who may otherwise need to avoid popcorn.


Recipe of the Week

spicy cajun popcorn and nuts


8 cups popped popcorn

1/2 cup toasted, coarsely chopped pecans

1/2 cup peanuts

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, melted

1/4 teaspoon each; dry mustard, garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper


1.  Place popcorn and nuts in large bowl.

2. In small microwave-safe bowl, microwave butter on HIGH until melted, about 30 seconds.

3.   Stir in dry mustard, garlic powder and cayenne pepper.

4. Drizzle over popcorn mixture and toss well.

Per serving (not including salt to taste) Calories 109, fat 7.2g, Protein 1.4g, Car 10.7g, fiber 3.4g, Chol 0mg, Iron 0.4mg, Sodium 83mg, Calc 20mg

Makes 9 Cups

Recipe source: http:

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