The Popcorn Issue

Have you ever gone to a movie and not gotten popcorn? I did once and let me tell you I regretted it for years and years afterwards. Going to a movie and not ordering a fifteen dollar tub of buttery heaven is like eating peanut butter without jelly, or macaroni without cheese, or ice cream without beer. It’s an affront to nature.

You can make popcorn at home, too, but let’s face it, it’s never going to turn out like real movie theater popcorn. I don’t know what they do to it that makes it the way it is, but it ranks right up there with the secret formula for Coca-Cola. (I probably don’t even want to know, since I’m sure it’s illegal.) So if you’re willing to settle for second best, go ahead and make some at home.

Suffice it to say, home-popcorn-popping technology has changed quite a bit over the years. Let’s take a look at the various options:

  • Manually. When I was growing up, this is how we made it. You poured a cup of oil into a big pot, added the popcorn, then stood there and shook it like a Polaroid picture. After thirty minutes of this the corn would begin to pop. About thirty seconds after the corn began to pop, it would blow the lid off the pot. The popcorn was then eaten directly off the stove top.
  • Hot Air. This was the first big advance in popcorn-making technology that I remember. And by “advance in technology” I mean “stupid idea.” The concept is simple: pour popcorn kernels into a blistering hot air stream, and they’ll pop just fine without all that tasteless, yucky oil. If this is your idea of a great bowl of popcorn, I might suggest you run packing peanuts under a hair dryer for a similarly tasty treat.
  • Under a Clear Dome. The Stir Crazy actually had some potential. It did, in principle, employ the same basic approach as the manual method. Except all the manualness was removed by the ingenious inclusion of rotating TV antennae to take the place of the half hour of shaking. You used oil, like mother nature intended, and it had an extra special butter melting feature on top. What more could you want?
  • Radio Transmissions. What more could you want? How about hands-free popcorn in three minutes! Enter the microwave. By using radio waves in certain special band of the electromagnetic spectrum, you can excite the water molecules in the corn kernels to make them a splode. Here’s what really happens, though, at a microscopic level: the radio waves surround each kernel and put it into a small stainless steel pot. They add oil and shake for three minutes until each kernel is perfectly cooked. Caution: Contents Will Be Lawsuit-Inducingly Hot.

So what’s the issue? I did, after all, title this post, “The Popcorn Issue.” Well, it’s all about tracking the nutritional value of the puffy white snack. There are two major problems:

  1. You never know how much you really eat.
  2. And even if you did, you don’t know what it’s caloric content is.

When we go to the movies we eat buckets of the stuff. I couldn’t tell you if I down ten cups or a hundred cups during a typical film. It’s physically impossible to know what a “cup” is. It’s so light and airy. I’ve seen calorie-tracking web sites call this anywhere from twenty to two-hundred calories.

Orville Redenbacher is no help either. For some reason these people like to tell you the nutritional value of a serving called, “Two Tablespoons of Unpopped Kernels.” Huh…? How many people rip open the uncooked bag and start munching away? I mean, look at this:

The astute popcorn label reader will notice, of course, that they do helpfully give you the nutritional values for the popped version (35 calories). But notice that this is for one cup popped. If you look up where one serving size was last defined, you’ll see it’s actually about 4.5 cups popped. Suddenly your one serving has jumped to nearly 160 calories.

And why don’t they put the number on there that everyone really needs to see: the entire bag. I know that’s how much I eat when I pop a bag myself. Multiply that by another 2.5 and you get nearly 400 calories. Not too bad, as snacks go, but certainly more than the “35” calories they suggest is in a “serving.”

So Happy Friday, everyone. That means it’s new movie night and the popcorn is calling. Or, if you want to save it up for a special occasion, there are only sixty-one days left until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is out.

12 Responses to “The Popcorn Issue”

Michelle said
September 10, 2010 at 5:48 am

I’m an engineer who spent 30 minutes one night trying to figure out the WW points in a bag of air popped popcorn….so I agree – why can’t they just put the nutrition information for the WHOLE bag on there?!?!

Have a great weekend and try to start sliding off that plateau!! My train is still chugging along – albeit a little slow! 🙂

Helen said
September 10, 2010 at 8:54 am

I have a link to a tool that will change your popcorn life forever because it gives you movie popcorn at home.


TexasDeb said
September 10, 2010 at 11:01 am

Charlie you gotta stop stalking my brainwaves – it is creepy. I JUST went through all this (with a slide rule and pocket calculator) two weeks ago when I decided to ix-nay the Eezits-chay and eat popcorn instead. (shh – don’t tell them or they’ll get angry….)

I decided to use the brown bag in the microwave version and simply add salt and IF I want to, melted butter or finely grated parmesan or whatever. If I start out with popcorn kernels and pop them without oil, then I can figure out the caloric value of any add ons and go from there.

Or I can just pop it and enjoy eating it and know that it is fewer calories than any similar amount of cheesy wonder crack(ers) and/or chips.

So yeah. Not that I reacted to this post or anything like that. Nope.

Glenn said
September 10, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I have gone through a variety of home machines, from the ones that look just like the movie ones to stove top to hot air poppers and I agree, they’re never quite like the theater versions although some are close. The nice thing about home though is I really can know how many calories are in what I make and sometimes that’s just what I need.

Mom said
September 10, 2010 at 12:22 pm

You know that I LUUVVV popcorn! How did you know I just indulged a few nights ago? I found a pack of microwave corn in the pantry – popped and ate it all.
Movie theater is the best, except I don’t like that artificial goop they put on it so I get it “plain”. Maybe it’s the salt level? or type of salt? I think there are 100-calorie microwave packs, but I’ve never bought one. I’d probably want to eat three….

Jenn@slim-shoppin said
September 10, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I can’t tell you how many times on the Weight Watcher’s bulletin boards people would ask…how many points for a bag of popcorn? Or movie theater popcorn? Or what if it’s with butter, etc!!!

I have to eat popcorn when I got to the movies, luckily that’s only a few times a year!

Biz said
September 10, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Wow, three family comments in a row! Hi Jenn and Hi Momma!

I feel Tony has showed me the best way to make popcorn!

Love, your prettier sister, Biz

Amy said
September 10, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Question: Does anyone know how much the calorie count goes up if you make it in a pan (old-school style) with oil?

We live in the backyard of beyond nowhere and don’t get enough electricity to run a microwave.

I do love me some popcorn though.

    Charlie said
    September 10, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    I suppose if you measure the amount of oil you put in the pan and then subtract whatever oil is left when you’re done cooking (if any) then you can equally distribute that caloric amount across the entire batch, then divide by the number of handfuls you pull out.

    p.s. Running an orphanage in Africa?! Wow.

      Amy said
      September 13, 2010 at 2:17 am

      Sounds perfect. Thanks. Now I need to make a batch of popcorn. LOL

tracy said
September 11, 2010 at 4:46 pm

why even GO to the theater if you aren’t going to have popcorn?? As often as I go (basically never;-) I allow myself a small indulgence, get the smallest size, eat a couple handfuls then accidentally drop it on the floor. I haven’t gotten so low as to eat it off the floor, yet. I know I shouldn’t spill it, but I’m clumsy. hehehe. 52 must be old because when I was a kid, my dad worked as a projectionist at an old-time cinema where they actually showed 2 Different movies a night, with an intermission inbetween. Often, he’d bring home bags of the leftover popcorn. I don’t remember anyone saying how dangerous it was back then. I guess since we didn’t know, it didn’t make us fat;-) Now I’m an Orville Redenbacher Kettle Korn 100 calorie pack junkie. It doesn’t make you fat, but don’t breathe the popcorn air or it will kill you lol

    Charlie said
    September 12, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I thought you meant you’d “accidentally” drop it on the floor on purpose, just to avoid eating the entire bag.

    And, no, popcorn wasn’t dangerous way back when. Food didn’t actually become bad for us until we invented nutritional labels.