So very simple, yet so amazing how this simple corn kernel "pops" when heated to become the fluffy, crunchy popular snack we all love!
It's reported that in the U.S., we eat over 17 billion quarts every year (that's enough to fill the Empire State Building 18 times)!
The Good News?
Popcorn is very good for us! It's a whole grain, meaning the bran, germ and endosperm are all intact. It's a good source of vitamins and nutrients including fiber, iron, magnesium and B vitamins. It also provides useful antioxidants called polyphenols. All these nutritional benefits and only 31 calories packed into each 1 cup serving -- plus no saturated fat or sodium!
Keeping this healthy snack from quickly becoming not-so-healthy! Especially if you say "YES!" when the movie theater asks "do you want butter?" This is a sure-fire way to turn this snack into one crazy unhealthy option! A medium-sized popcorn at your local theater can have 700 calories or more, plus more than 50 grams of saturated fat and 1,000 mg of sodium! And that is BEFORE adding the butter-flavored topping! This would compare to a Bloomin’ Onion from your local steakhouse restaurant!
Beware of the processed powdered seasonings! These shake-on popcorn seasonings can be loaded with trans-fat and artificial flavoring, coloring and preservatives.
The Best News?
There are some great ways to make popcorn taste delicious while keeping it healthy!
The keys to success...air-popping and REAL ingredient toppings!
According to one Eat REAL America member,
"my three kids stood around and watched the popcorn falling out of the air-pop popper like they had never seen such a thing -- complete fascination! A little coconut oil and salt makes this a snack we all love!"
Super-easy ways to air-pop this healthy snack:
- Electric air-pop popper: place your popcorn kernels in an air-pop popcorn maker and, in just 2 minutes...a bowl full of perfectly-popped popcorn, ready to be seasoned and devoured!
- Microwave air-pop popper: same as the electric version but a bowl made for the microwave. Add kernels and you will have light and airy popcorn within just a couple of minutes. Season and go!
- Brown-bag it! Simply place up to 1/4 cup of kernels in a lunch-sized brown paper bag, loosely fold the top so the kernels don’t fall out, microwave on high until most of the kernels have popped (for us, this takes about 80 to 90 seconds, but it will depend on your microwave). Season and enjoy!
Why not pop the corn on the stove in oil?
Our motto is "if there's fat IN it, then don't put it ON it." So if you are happy popping in oil on the stove and seasoning without adding butter or more oil, then go for it! While canola oil used to be considered the best oil for popping corn, coconut oil, with it's high smoke point (and tolerance to heat without oxidizing) is truly the best oil, and tastes terrific too. But having tried both methods, we think air popping is so much easier, including cleanup!
Add Some Flavor!
Most of us won’t get very excited about unseasoned popcorn straight from the air-popper or brown bag. Fortunately, there are some fantastic ways to season popcorn to provide both sweet and savory varieties…your choice! Our favorite “go-to” is 1 Tbsp of coconut oil and sea salt…simple, healthy and delicious! (Yes -- coconut oil and sea salt are REAL FOOD and are a healthy addition to a healthy diet. More on this from Zonya in a future coaching tip).
There are many incredibly delicious options:
- Basic seasoning: 1 Tbsp of coconut oil (or olive oil or combination of both) + 1/2 tsp of salt. An olive oil sprayer comes in very handy here!
- Coconut oil + your favorite seasoning (such as: curry powder, five spice powder, garlic powder, Italian seasonings, Old-Bay seasoning or others - get creative!) NOTE: Remember when buying coconut oil, be mindful that there are two kinds. "Unrefined" means the coconut flavor is retained, and "refined" is slightly more processed and will have no coconut flavor. Both are acceptable choices, so choose whichever you wish.
- Dark Chocolate Drizzled Popcorn: coconut oil and dark chocolate chips melted and drizzled over popped popcorn.
- Pizza Popcorn: combine in a food processor 3 Tbsp of oil, 2 Tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp salt. Drizzle over popped popcorn and gently stir to combine. You can also add 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese!
- Sweet Spicy Popcorn: in a small bowl, mix together 1 Tbsp oil, 2 Tbsp maple syrup, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cayenne, and 1/2 tsp garlic powder. Drizzle over popped popcorn and gently stir to combine.
- Fiesta Spiced Popcorn: if you are a fan of that cheesy nacho flavor, we think you will love this version! Combine 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast with 1 tsp each of garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, paprika, chili powder, and salt. Then, add 1/4 tsp of cayenne to add a little kick and toss with popped popcorn.
- Garlic Rosemary Parmesan: delicious combination of flavors by combining 1 tsp of dried rosemary (or 1-2 Tbsp of chopped fresh rosemary), 1/2 tsp of garlic powder and salt, 1/4 tsp of pepper, and 1/4 cup of finely shredded or grated parmesan. Gently toss with popped popcorn.
- Honey Vanilla Popcorn: in a small bowl, mix together 2 Tbsp melted butter (or olive oil), 1 Tbsp honey, 1/4 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp salt. Drizzle over popped popcorn and gently stir to combine -- this one tastes like kettle corn!
But, what about microwave popcorn?
Yes, it is extremely convenient, we don't even have to enter the time...simply press the popcorn button! And, it's perfectly seasoned...or is it?
There is a whole lot more than just popcorn in those microwave bags.
We encourage you to switch to the air-pop and kick the microwave version to the curb for several reasons:
- Your Health! The microwave bags can contain the chemical butter flavor called diacetyl, and the flame retardant, PFOA, which are linked to thyroid disease, high cholesterol and bladder cancer. And that's not all! Even the fumes from microwave popcorn can actually cause a condition called "popcorn lung" -- it is a real thing! While microwave popcorn factory workers have seen the most harm, it has happened to "2 bags a day" consumers too, as discussed in the Huffington Post. Some companies are stating they have removed the damaging chemical, however reviews like this one on Pub Med as well as this article, show the "replacement" chemicals they are using may not be any better. The bottom line: microwave popcorn, with its chemical flavoring ingredients and flame retardant bags, are NOT REAL FOOD!
- Burnt bags and old maids! How many bags of microwave popcorn have we burnt over the years (and experienced that awful smell)? And, how many unpopped kernels (called “old maids”) do we toss away? With the air-popper, you can say good-bye to these issues forever!
- Save some money! At our local store, regular microwave popcorn costs 4 times the amount of the kernels ($0.28 vs. $0.07 per ounce). Depending on how much you eat, this could literally save you $100 or more over the course of a year!
- Taste! We have talked to many people who have made this transition and no longer like the taste of microwave popcorn. In fact, they are now teaching their family and friends that the "chemical smell" from microwave popcorn is definitely not a desirable one!
Popcorn is a perfect healthy snack to make ahead and take on-the-go! Whether it's kids’ sports activities, a road trip or simply to have a snack in the car, we can’t tell you how many concession stand requests we have avoided simply by bringing a couple bags of popcorn to our kids’ activities! Get popping and let us know what you think!
Can anyone recommend a good air popper – I have purchased a few and I have not found one that works well- thanks.
Thanks for asking! Check out our favorite kitchen gadgets in this coaching tip. It includes the popcorn popper that we love! Hope that helps!