How Does Popcorn Pop

Photo of popcorn in a microwave oven

In this article we will solve the mystery, how does popcorn pop? Popcorn consumption in the United States has steadily increased over the last few years. Recently a major popcorn manufacturer switched from packaging uncooked popcorn to producing already popped popcorn in a bag. A spokesman for the factory said that Americans were starting to prefer popcorn that was already popped. Perhaps it is because 100% of the popcorn they pay for they can eat without any unpopped hard kernels.

When I was a child the only way to make popcorn was to put some oil in a pan, add the popcorn and put it on the stove. It did require some type of lid to help control the popcorn from popping out onto the stove. Today most popcorn cooked at home is cooked in a microwave oven. Inside the microwave the microwave energy causes the moisture inside the kernel to vibrate and change polarity millions of times per second. This produces friction that heats the moisture.

So how does popcorn pop? Exactly what makes a hard kernel that would hurt your teeth become a tasty treat that you can't get enough of. Well like a lot of things in life that seem complicated the answer to why popcorn pops is actually very simple.

A perfect popcorn kernel has a small amount of moisture trapped inside. When heated to a high enough temperature that moisture inside changes from a liquid to a gas. In other words, it turns to steam. When that happens the outer casing of the kernel cannot take the pressure and it erupts releasing the steam producing a tasty snack food.

Did you ever wonder why there are always kernels of popcorn that go uncooked? If you cook popcorn in the microwave and try to cook every last kernel in the bag inevitably you're going to wind up burning the popcorn already popped and producing no additional popcorn. The reason that not all popcorn kernels pop is that during harvest, production packaging and transportation the kernels tend to vibrate and bump into each other causing some of them to crack. When that happens the moisture that is essential to make the popcorn kernel pop, dries up. So no matter how much heat you add to it, a popcorn kernel that lacks moisture will never pop. Well there you have it, the answer to the mystery why popcorn pops.

If you are looking for a better way to cook popcorn at home, consider a hot air popper. Hot air poppers are a healthy alternative because they do not require the use of any oil.