In the 1970’s when our little family bought our first microwave oven, we learned to make popcorn in a brown paper bag soaked with water to create steam that in turn made the kernels pop! What fun science! No more popcorn on the stove in the old cast iron skillet for us! Soon after, the food industry caught on to the new technology and microwavable popcorn was available in the supermarkets. Now we find these bags in the vending machines in the workplace and there are some folks in my building who eat a bag of this every day. OK, I admit I used to eat one almost every day too, but gave it up a couple of years ago.
Now it’s 2009 – nearly 35 years after that fun science of popcorn in a fancy bag and we’re learning some lessons about that new fangled technology. The problem: Chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in the lining of the popcorn bag, are part of a class of compounds that may be linked to infertility in humans, according to a recent study from UCLA. Hmmm, you might speculate that as a middle-aged, single, female with no plans to procreate anytime soon, I would not be concerned about the infertility issue for myself. And you’d be correct.
However, in animal testing, these same chemicals cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. Studies show that microwaving causes the chemicals to vaporize—and migrate into your popcorn. Notice the lack of the term "may" here - this is the statement - "these same chemicals cause cancer". "They stay in your body for years and accumulate there," says Olga Naidenko, PhD, (a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group), which is why researchers worry that levels in humans could approach the amounts causing cancers in laboratory animals. DuPont and other manufacturers have promised to phase out PFOA by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan, but millions of bags of popcorn will be sold between now and then.
So back to the 1970’s I went when popcorn came in pound size bags of kernels and was popped on the stove top (remember Jiffy Pop?). A quick search on the internet lead me to a recipe for kettle corn so simple it was almost unbelievable. A stop at the store discovered that they did indeed still sell popcorn kernels in pound-size bags (or bottles now) so I brought some home, dragged out my trusty heavy bottomed saucepan and lid and 5 minutes later sat down to a warm bowl of home made kettle corn. YUM! Yes, I do have some clean up to do with the pan, but that is little price to pay for a special treat that gets around all those perflui-thing-a-ma-jig chemicals in the microwave versions.
Besides, every time I pop corn on the stovetop I stop and think about doing this with my Mom and my Grandpa. Very little goes better with a hot bowl of popcorn than a trip down memory lane.
HOME POPPED KETTLE CORN
2 Tbls. Corn oil
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup popping corn kernels
Salt to taste
In a heavy bottomed 2-qt sized pan with a tight fitting lid, over medium high to high heat, swirl the corn oil and popcorn until all kernels are coated with oil. Heat just until the first kernel begins to pop, quickly toss in the sugar and cover the pan with the lid. Shake the pan back and forth on the stove to prevent the sugared corn from sticking until the kernels stop popping. Quickly remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Remember – this is HOT sugar and will easily burn if you’re not careful – this is not a process for kids!
Once in the bowl, salt the corn to taste and you’re ready to indulge. Simple huh? I admit to burning a batch or two of this while learning just how high to keep the heat during the popping process. The up side is that popcorn in bulk is pretty inexpensive so a batch in the trash isn't a bank breaking incident.
A clean up tip: while the pan is still hot, rinse with water to dissolve any sugar residue. If you don’t get it out it will harden like rock candy in the pan and you’ll have to soak out it later.