Drop that bag of microwave popcorn now!!


Did the title of my post get your attention?  I sure hope so.  I have never been fond of the smell of microwave popcorn, so I don’t eat it.  The smell of the butter flavor is kind of disgusting to me.  I hate it when someone at work pops popcorn for a snack because the smell travels through our entire air conditioning system and gets into every room in our building.  The smell does not seem wholesome to me.  


A few days ago, I started noticing news articles about four major popcorn makers dropping a toxic chemical from their brands of popcorn.  It turns out that the butter flavor used in microwave popcorn is made with compound called diaceytl.  Diacetyl is a natural chemical compound responsible for that yummy buttery finish in a nice Chardonnay wine.  When diaceytl is heated such as when we pop microwave popcorn, toxic fumes are formed.  If these fumes are inhaled in large quantities, a person could get a rare form of bronchitis.  This has been happening for some time to workers who make microwave popcorn.  The disease has thus been named “popcorn lung”.   Although popcorn factory workers have been adversely affected by popcorn lung for some time, it was generally thought that consumers would not be exposed to diacetyl fumes in high enough concentrations to harm us.   Well, like all good food scares; someone found a gentleman who got popcorn lung because he was an excessive lover of microwave popcorn.  Here is what caught my attention in the article about the man who got popcorn lung in his home:  “Doctors tested Watson’s home for levels of diaceytl fumes and found that while popcorn was microwaved in the kitchen, peak levels of the fumes were similar to those measured in factories.”  This statement is bad.  Pollution in homes has been shown to be elevated to the pollution outside of our homes.  This is probably because our homes are enclosed so there is not a lot of air flowing in and out to remove toxins.  If we microwave popcorn in the house, those fumes are going to stay right were we will breath them in.


So, now you are probably thinking “Thanks a lot Mimi, what the $^@# do you want me to do now that I’m scared to eat microwave popcorn?”  Well, I’ve got you covered.  At least for popcorn noshing at home.  When I was really little, we had the kind of popcorn maker that used oil to pop corn.  It made great popcorn.  You could also pop corn in a large pot, but that always yielded a mess of burnt corn for me.  When I was sort of little, air popcorn machines were invented.  Air popped corn was super healthy and low fat, but the corn always seemed stale.  A couple of years ago I got a microwave popper thinking I could emulate the crunchiness of the stuff in the bag, but the popcorn still came out stale and you had to use a paper disk with the popper, what a waste!  Awhile back, I bought “How to cook Everything” by Mark Bittman.  It turns out, I always burned popcorn in a pan because I used too high of heat!  His method is fool proof.  I created a spicy-garlic butter to flavor the popcorn.  With a little improvisation, you could make other flavorings like Parmesan butter.  The point is, once again, homemade is superior, healthier, cheaper and tastier.


Spicy Garlic Popcorn


Popping method from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.  The natural Popcorn flavor by me.


2 tbsp Safflower oil or other neutral oil


½ cup popping corn


3 tbsp unsalted butter


½ tsp salt


1 ½ tsp garlic powder


1 tsp *nanami togarishi (Japanese chili powder) or any chili powder blend that has heat


Place the oil in the bottom of a large, deep saucepan (6 quarts or so) that can be covered and turn heat to medium.  Add three kernels of corn and cover.  When the three kernels pop, remove the cover and add the remaining corn.  Cover and shake the pot, holding the lid as you do so.  Cook, shaking the pot occasionally until you hear the popping stop, about 5 minutes.  Be careful to listen to what is going on in your pot, even at this low heat, it will still burn if you don’t catch it soon enough. 


Meanwhile, melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave or in a small pan on the stove.  Mix in the salt, garlic powder and nanami togarishi.  Pour the butter mixture into the pan with the just popped popcorn and shake the pan, covered, to coat the popcorn with the butter mixture.  Pour popcorn into a large bowl to serve.


*Nanami togarishi can be found in the Asian food section of well-stocked supermarkets or specialty Asian markets.  This Japanese chili powder contains: chili pepper, orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed.  It is traditionally used as a condiment for Soba noodle soup but I use it on broiled fish, on baked potatoes and now on popcorn.