Popcorn is everyone’s favorite classic movie fare. The crunchy little morsels of corn make for a convenient snack to munch on while your eyes are glued to the big screen. Still, do you ever think of the cooking process behind popcorn? Have you ever wondered why it has such a distinctive way of being cooked when compared to other food?
Today, we're going to answer the age old question of what makes popcorn pop, among other matters related to this tasty snack. Bear with us, because you may find that the explanations and answers we have for some of your questions are rather interesting.
You may be wondering what popcorn is made out of. After all, other types of corn kernels will not pop when they are heated. So, why is popcorn so special? Well, it turns out that popcorn is made out of a particular kind of corn that is unique when compared to all other corn types.
Popcorn is made out of Zea mays everta, a particular variety of corn which can pop. There are over 100 different varieties of this kind of corn, and each of them has their own special properties. Some of them are better suited for use as snacks, so they are cultivated more than others.
The short answer to this question is water. The long answer is a little more complicated. A popcorn kernel is like a little shell. Within that shell (also known as the hull), there is something referred to as the endosperm. The endosperm is the part of a seed which contains starch and nutrients, so they are often edible.
For example, the endosperm in coconuts is the meat, and the moisture from the endosperm is the coconut water. In the case of a popcorn kernel, the endosperm is the starchy part which takes up the majority of the interior space. This endosperm contains a good deal of moisture in the form of trapped water.
When heated up, this moisture turns into steam, which expands and pushes against the walls of the kernel (also known as the hull). This pressure keeps building up as more steam is produced from the moisture in the endosperm.
When the pressure becomes too much, the hull of the kernel pops and turns inside out. When this occurs, the cooked starch of the endosperm inside of the hull expands and makes up the body of the snack. As you can see, the reason behind why popcorn pops is quite simple.
There can be a number of reasons why some kernels will not end up popping while others will pop faster. The first factor has to do with the amount of moisture that can be found inside of the starch. If there is insufficient moisture in a particular kernel, there will not be enough steam to expand it, therefore it will not pop.
The next possibility is a lack of sufficient starch. If there is not enough endosperm inside of a popcorn kernel, there will be nothing to contain moisture and nothing to expand. Once again, this will result in a kernel which will not pop.
The final reason why a kernel will not pop may perhaps be the most simple reason: the hull is too strong to pop. If the popcorn’s hull is too strong to give in when the expanding steam reaches its maximum volume, a kernel will not be able to pop.
To understand how microwave popcorn works, it is important to know how a microwave works. Microwaves cook food directly by disrupting water molecules. When a microwave (the electromagnetic wave, not the appliance) comes into contact with water, the water will be agitated.
An agitated molecule is one that gets hot, so when the microwaves hit the water suspended in the starch, it will start turning into steam. When the kernels pop, they come into contact with the flavoring that coats the bag.
As you can see, the science behind popcorn is not as complicated as it may seem, as it is quite logical. We hope that our explanations have been sufficiently clear, now go and get yourself a nice big bag of popcorn!