Oct 10, 2011

DIY Microwave Popcorn

Popcorn is in my blood. I vividly recall contented Sunday nights eating popcorn on the living room floor with my parents, watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. My kids must have inherited my love for popcorn, because their favorite nights involve the treat - and perhaps a family nature movie. And popcorn is a healthy, whole grain snack...right?

I long ago stopped popping popcorn in a pan on the stove. I guess I got lazy. I always thought my parent's air popper was a pain, and it just seemed easier to use microwavable bags of popcorn. I never really thought much about the health effects of eating microwavable popcorn. Then I read a news story that made me question whether I should ever let anyone in my family eat microwave popcorn again. Apparently, the lining of those popcorn bags contains perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which accumulates in the body over time. (It's the same stuff Teflon pans are coated with.) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers this chemical potentially carcinogenic and has asked for an end to it's use by 2015.

Hmmm. Then there are stories of people in popcorn plants developing lung problems. And now at least one man who doesn't work in such a factory - but eats a lot of microwave popcorn - has developed this health issue, too. In addition, one has to consider that most microwave popcorn isn't made with natural butter - which creates additional health concerns.

Just when I was about to bring out a heavy and pan and make my popcorn the old fashioned way, I wondered if I could make my own microwave popcorn. After reading about 100 blogs and news articles, I discovered it's not only do-able, but it's simple, easy, cheaper, and healthier than commercially prepared popcorn. Give it a try!

What You Need:

Popcorn kernels
Brown paper lunch bag
Melted butter (optional)
Salt (optional; even though the photo above shows table salt, which is linked to autoimmune disorders, we have since switched to sea salt.)

How to Do It:

1. Fill the paper bag with popcorn kernels. About 1/4 cup is right; more than that and there probably won't be enough room in the bag for the finished popcorn. This may result in burnt popcorn and/or unpopped kernels.

2. Fold down the top of the bag. I make 2 folds a little more than 1/4 inch wide. (Some people like to Scotch tape the bag closed; I've never tried this. Don't use staples or potato chip bags, as some suggest, because these could spark a fire in the microwave.)

3. Place the bag in the microwave on High. Turn the microwave on for 5 minutes, but stay right by the machine's side. As soon as the popping begins slowing down to two-second intervals, stop the microwave and remove the bag.

4. Season with butter and salt. (I pour the popcorn into a bowl first.) Eat!

If desired, you can put the butter and salt in the bag with the popcorn before popping; however, I find it harder to judge how much seasoning I want this way. Also, it makes for a greasy bag. If you follow the steps above, you can reuse the same bag over and over.


  1. Now I know exactly what to do with the popcorn in my freezer! :)

  2. Liberty, your comment made me wonder: Can you really freeze popcorn? Apparently, you can - but it will dry it out and reduce how well it pops: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1546/does-freezing-unpopped-popcorn-make-it-pop-fuller-and-fresher

  3. My mom always kept our popcorn in the freezer when I was growing up. But, now, I wonder if that's the best idea. My husband can't get it to pop worth a darn on the stove when he makes it...

    Just curious, how much popcorn kernels can the average paper bag handle??

  4. No more than 1/4 cup, or the contents of the bag will overflow :)

  5. I've been wondering how to make healthier microwave popcorn. Thanks!

  6. I tried this but was a little bit disappointed to have as many unpopped kernels left over as I did. I think I might go back to the stovetop option with a few less unpopped kernels (I can also pop 2x as much in the same amount of time) and use this method as an easy-out for the moments when I don't want to stand at the stove... Thanks for all the tips! -Monica

  7. Groothofs, the microwave method should not produce unpopped kernels. But that *can* happen if the popcorn is old, has been frozen, or is of poor quality. Stovetop popping is still a great option - it just takes more attention. I also wonder if it's a bit less healthy, since you must use oil to pop the kernels.

  8. Groothofs, I believe you are simple over-filling the bag. A few times recently, I dumped my popcorn into a bowl and found a large number of unpopped kernels. So I removed all the popped corn, left the unpopped kernels in the bag, and put the bag back in the microwave. They all popped beautifully. You can do as I did, or you can simply put a few less kernels in the bag to begin with.

  9. So glad to have this technique in my back pocket! I'm using it today to make non-greasy popcorn so my kids and I can make popcorn balls! :) Thanks, Kristina!