Monday, 8 October 2012

Healthy Home Made Popcorn

We have a cinema room and we just love to eat popcorn while we watch movies.  I've always thought of popcorn as a healthy snack, but I've since learnt there's healthy popcorn and not so healthy popcorn.

Natural Flavoured Microwave Popcorn

We've always bought the natural flavour microwave popcorn.  One because of the convenience - the kids can easily put a bag in the microwave and make their own popcorn, and two because we can't stand the smell of 'butter flavoured' microwave popcorn.  It makes us all feel sick.  Woolworths have stopped selling the Uncle Toby's popcorn, and now sell Poppin which only makes butter flavour.  So when I was in Coles recently buying some natural flavoured popcorn I read the nutritional information, and got a big surprise.

The packet contains 80% popping corn which means the remaining 20% is vegetable oil (not specified) and salt.  20% that's a lot!  Then I looked at the nutrition panel and saw that a 100 gram serving has 24.3 grams of fat with 13.3 grams of saturated fat.  Hmmmm, not as healthy as I thought?

Butter Flavoured Microwave Popcorn

Uncle Toby's also make Butter Popcorn and Extreme butter popcorn.  They have the same ratio - 80% popcorn, 20% oil, salt and 'butter flavour'.  I thought, oh imagine how much fat is in that?  I was surprised again.  There was less fat.  Butter flavour had 24.1 grams of fat with 12.9 grams of saturated fat, and Extreme butter had 24.2 grams of fat with 8.5 grams saturated.

Let's look at Poppin.  Butter flavour has 77% corn with the remaining 23% being vegetable oil (again not specified), salt, colour and 'butter flavour'. The nutrition panel for a 100 gram serving shows 25.2 grams of fat with 9.6 grams saturated.  Triple butter was 24.3 grams and 9.5 grams respectively.  They also offer a Butter Lite flavour which has only 11.1 grams of fat with 3.7grams of saturated fat.  How did they make it lite?  Well it helps that they increased the amount of corn in the packet to 91%.

Just this year, Wayne Watson, was awarded US$7.27 million by a federal jury in Denver when it decided that his lung cancer was caused by inhaling the fumes from butter flavoured microwave popcorn. (reference - Wikipedia and ABC News).  I always knew I hated the smell of butter flavour and now I know why.  When are we going to learn to stop messing around with our food and just eat it more naturally?

If you're thinking about eating the popcorn at the cinema, consider this, according to Calorie King a 100g serve of cinema prepared popcorn has 25g of fat with 15.3g saturated fat, and a study of cinema popcorn in the US found it contained as much as 29g of saturated fat which is more than 3 Big Macs.

Plain Healthy Popping Corn

There is a way to eat healthy popcorn.  Just buy plain popping corn.  100% wholegrain popping corn with nothing added.  I bought a 375 gram pack of Basils microwaveable popping corn from Woolworths for $1.21.  Compare this to $5.61 for 4 x 100g ready to microwave packs.  Here's how to make it:

An Electric Popcorn Machine - Air Popped
You can buy special popcorn machines that will air-pop the popping corn.  They range from a few dollars in BigW to over $150 for the Cusinart one.  Each machine will have it's own instructions but basically you put the popping corn in the machine, turn it on and in a couple of minutes the popcorn will be ready.  I am considering buying one as I'm still not entirely convinced that using a microwave is safe, but in the meantime, here's how to microwave popcorn.

In a Microwave Container
The directions on the back of the Basil's packet say to add 75 grams.  I know you don't want to get the scales out every time you make popcorn, so I've weighed it for you - 75g is about 1/3 of a cup.  I have some cup measures so I can easily scoop up just the right amount of popcorn.  Place it in a microwave container.  Heat on high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Stop the microwave when the rapid popping stops.  Wait 20 seconds before you open the container as some popcorn may still pop.  If you cook it for too long, the popcorn will burn. Each microwave is different.  Mine cooks in about 2:45 minutes.

In a Paper Bag
Do the same as above, but only use 1/4 cup of popping corn and cook for 90 seconds - 2 minutes.  My microwave takes 2 minutes, but don't overcook it as burnt popcorn smells nearly as bad as fake butter popcorn.  You can use the 20x24cm brown paper lunch bags from the supermarket.  Fold the bag over 2-3 times across the top firmly so the popcorn doesn't go flying all around the inside of your microwave.  I  lay the bag flat, folded side down and shake it gently so the corn is evenly distributed.

And you'll get delicious healthy popcorn.

And here's what you get when you ask your daughter if you can take a photo of her eating the popcorn.

Notes & Variations:  Personally I like just a little sea salt on my popcorn.  You could also try adding some cinnamon sugar or vanilla sugar for sweet popcorn, or chilli powder or cayenne pepper for spicy popcorn.

Nutrition Information:  According to the packet, 100 grams of Basils popcorn microwaved with no added fat has 4.2 grams of fat, with 0.6 grams saturated fat.  An article in The Daily Mail (UK) suggests that popcorn is the only snack that is 100% unprocessed wholegrain and contains antioxidants known as poly phenols which can help fight harmful molecules that damage cells.

Interesting Facts:  If everything I wrote above wasn't interesting enough then here's a fact - Corn kernels pop at about 180C/356F

So now that's sorted, you just need to decide what movie you are going to watch?


  1. Ohh noooooo, I am terrible! I have to admit I love popcorn. Whej we were kids we made it using the simple bag or corn popped in a saucepan, but i have been lazy lately and bought the Coles variety. I know I've read the "nutrition" information, but then I must have blocked it out. I like the taste and literally wont stop eating until it is gone. Disaster. I will think of this next time and try to go for a healthier option :)

  2. Oh Sarah, I know. I love popcorn too, I just want to eat it the healthy way. If you like butter, you could always melt some and drizzle it over the top. At least it would be real butter. I don't eat dairy so I just have salt.
    The popcorn in the bag works really well. No added oil needed.
    Hope I haven't spoilt it for you.

  3. So impressed by your comprehensive popcorn analysis! We are popcorn fans too and always on the hunt for the best one. The latest craze in our house is to add m & m's ( certainly not the healthiest option, but very delicious!)

    1. Thanks Simone. I may have missed my calling as a research assistant. Once I'm onto something I just keep going. Sorry the post was probably a bit long but it was scary that I didn't realise what I was giving my kids to eat.

  4. I know what you mean about the microwave. We do it in a pan on the stove but you have to watch it like a hawk. Love the photos of your daughter. xx

    1. Yes - need to look into microwaves. Not sure about them yet?

    2. We threw our microwave out when we moved to our current home almost 12 years ago and have never really missed it!
      We have had a few popcorn machines over the years, but the next one I want to buy is the Cuisinart one, in the meantime we have been popping on the stove, like I did as a kids, with a little EVOL.

    3. I really should have included the saucepan method in my post, but I was trying to find easy ways to pop the corn that the kids could do by themselves.

  5. I have always disliked the smell of microwave butter too, its quite blah. Shame, shame about that natural popcorn... back to good old fashion basics once again. Thanks for this info, I wonder how the snack packs of popcorn rate??... I must check them out, always buying those for the boys for school. Rxx


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