Why does margarine melt my popcorn?
February 18, 2005 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Whenever real butter is used for a topping on my popcorn it seems to work well, coats the popcorn, does not make it soggy. When I use margarine it seems to "melt" the popcorn, making it soggy.

I am curious to hear some technical reasons why this might happen. I know the melting points are nominally similar, so I have crossed that out. My brainstorm starts with a higher specific heat, a different lipid bilayer, or some more complex organic interaction between the differing molecules?
posted by sled to Food & Drink (9 answers total)
Margarine has a higher water content than butter, which might increase sogginess.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 5:17 PM on February 18, 2005

Just use the butter because it tastes better, and is better for you. No contest.
posted by caddis at 5:55 PM on February 18, 2005

Or heat the margarine longer to drive off the water.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:04 PM on February 18, 2005

My question isn't really a cis vs trans, or a butter vs maragine battle here. Please don't answer it as such - I know what is good for me, and this is a curiosity. It is a why does X chemical do something that Y chemical does not. Perhaps this is too specific, but I'm guessing the starch components act strangely with the differing chains of the lipids?
posted by sled at 6:38 PM on February 18, 2005

No. It's just the water. Water = soggy.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:08 PM on February 18, 2005

Or for that real movie popcorn taste, use butter flavored oil, available at all fine supermarkets... that's all you're getting at the theater for your $10.00.
posted by crankydoodle at 12:31 AM on February 19, 2005

(Back when I tried margarine on popcorn...) Generic or store-brand stick margarine did not make my popcorn nearly as soggy as that "easy-spread in the tub" margarine.

Perhaps melting it in the oven at 250 would evaporate the water without burning. Or, maybe microwaving it?
posted by mischief at 8:26 AM on February 19, 2005

Apparently it is about the water.. After finding no PhD's in the crowd here I emailed one of my past Biochemistry Professors and was able to yeild this answer (thank you!):

"Tub margarine has quite a bit of added water to make it "spreadable" when cold (water is one of the ingredients). If it is stick margarine you're using, it may also have a bit of water in it to give it the right consistency.

Margarine typically starts out as corn oil, which is an oil & thus has too many cis double bonds. The hydrogenation adds H's across the double bonds, making them saturated (i.e., single bonds, not double) as a way of solidifying the oil (increasing its melting point). Some cis bonds are converted to trans, instead of becoming saturated. Now manufacturers are trying to avoid this side process, hence the "no trans" labels on fats.

The hydrogenation process would add H's not H2O's to the structure. I don't know the exact process used, but I don't think it would introduce lots of water.

So, if you are using tub margarine, that is the problem. Try stick. If stick is also giving you this problem, I would guess, like mayonnaise, some water is added to it to create a butter-like consistency. Maybe a different margarine brand would have less water."

posted by sled at 3:32 PM on February 20, 2005

Interesting. My experience (with a hot air popper) is just the opposite: butter makes my popcorn soggy and tub margarine does not.
posted by deborah at 4:08 PM on February 20, 2005

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