Bagged popcorn better than microwave?
December 6, 2011 8:28 PM   Subscribe

I've heard all the cautions about microwave popcorn and bad chemicals - but do companies that make store-bought popcorn in bags also use a noxious process for popping their popcorn? I realized I might be making a "bagged popcorn is healthier" assumption when I have no idea if companies use giant microwaves and bags to pop their corn...
posted by agregoli to Food & Drink (15 answers total)
I used a commercial popper (not the little countertop ones, a huge drum popper in the back) when I worked at a movie theater. It was metal and the bags didn't come into play until I manually scooped the popped corn into them. I suspect if our ancient, broke-ass art house used that kind of popper, it's probably pretty close to what an industrial scale popper would look like.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:42 PM on December 6, 2011

Giant microwaves? Ever seen one? I think most places just use a commercial popper and some trans-fats.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:03 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you mean the chemical used in butter flavored microwave popcorn?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:36 PM on December 6, 2011

Air popped + real melted butter. You will never go back.

But I agree that the pre-popped stuff probably doesn't have those chemicals in it that you are worried about. They are popped in these really large drums with oil/trans-fats if I remember that episode of "How it's Made" correctly.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:41 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's nothing inherently unhealthy about using a microwave to pop your popcorn. Negative health effects come from the chemicals used to give popcorn that 'butter flavor', not from the microwaving process itself.
posted by sid at 9:51 PM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

In microwave popcorn it may not be *just* the butter flavor, but also the technology/materials used to get it to pop well.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:58 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

To elaborate on what other people have been mentioning - the most prominent popcorn-related danger I'm aware of is popcorn lung, an irreversible disease with the medical name "bronchiolitis obliterans" caused by inhaling too much diacetyl, a chemical used in creating the artificial buttery flavor. It affects factory workers but also there's at least one case of a consumer who ate microwave popcorn daily suffering from it.
posted by XMLicious at 12:39 AM on December 7, 2011

Most modern industrial processes, especially those which make a lot of something, are flow through rather than batch systems, so using a microwave, even a giant microwave, wouldn't offer any advantage.

Also note that diacetyl is found in real butter too, so don't go huffing Land o'Lakes.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:06 AM on December 7, 2011

Wikipedia also notes that it "occurs naturally in alcoholic beverages" as a byproduct of fermentation.
posted by XMLicious at 1:16 AM on December 7, 2011

Mod note: Some comments deleted; OP is not asking for tips on how to make popcorn at home. Please stick to the question asked -- thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:12 AM on December 7, 2011

I've heard(possibly from Alton Brown) that the problem is the diacetyl in the butter...popcorn lung. I think he advised that people not do something like inhale from the bag right after it comes out of the microwave. So the alternative was to make it in the microwave, but put the bag together yourself using a brown paper bag with the kernels and some oil. I don't think it has anything to do with the microwave itself.

I don't think bagged store-bought popcorn is healthier for the most part because of the oil and other flavoring agents some companies use.
posted by fromageball at 8:50 AM on December 7, 2011

Response by poster: Right, but healthier because of oils, etc, is not what I'm asking. I guess unless anyone knows about industrial popping directly, its likely that its a big popper like was saif above.
posted by agregoli at 10:05 AM on December 7, 2011

If I wanted to pop a ton (ie 2000 lbs) of popcorn a day I would build a contraption like a large air popper with a good hopper and a collection mechanism so you could continuously add in kernels and collect the output by separating on cross-sectional area (ie popped or not) using wind resistance. Imagine your standard air popper just with a huge popping chamber and a means of added in the kernels slowly.
posted by koolkat at 10:11 AM on December 7, 2011

Best answer: Anecdotally, this video shows a company testing their popcorn with a kettle and oil:

This brand of popcorn says in the description that they make it with a kettle:

Further anecdotal evidence: I once sat on the Amtrak next to a guy who worked at Tim's chips, cleaning out the kettles. He didn't mention any giant microwaves he had to clean. He did say it was disgusting hard work. The kettles are so big you climb around inside them with a mop and get grease all over you.
posted by purple_bird at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2011

Just to round this out a tiny bit, there are giant (ish) microwaves used in some large-scale food production. I saw one a few weeks ago that is apparently used as a bacon cooker for the fast food market.

But like everyone else said, I doubt this has any bearing on the healthfulness of bagged pre-popped popcorn.
posted by brennen at 12:34 AM on December 8, 2011

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