Microwave Popcorn May be Trouble in a Bag

This post is an Everyday Cheapskate favorite pulled from the archives. Enjoy this 2014 column that was a big hit among our readers.

When I first read about the possible dangers of microwave popcorn, I assumed I would read about issues having to do with sodium and trans fats. What I’ve learned is that the real problem may be with the bag.


The bag almost all microwave popcorn varieties come in is lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical, when heated, has been linked to infertility, cancer and other diseases in lab animals. No long term studies have been conducted on humans, but the EPA now lists this substance as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”  Holy moly! Likely to be? That’s enough for me to shun the stuff, but that’s not the only reason. Microwave popcorn is relatively expensive!

I’ll show you a cost comparison, but first, let me show you how to make popcorn in the microwave with no PFOA-laden bag, and no tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), annatto extract or propyl gallate added for flavor, color or longevity (ingredients copied from a bag of the stuff). I’m talking fresh, pristine, fabulous popcorn from start to finish in about 3 minutes.


Equipment: You need  two pieces of equipment. 1) 2.5 quart-size or similar microwave-safe glass bowl. Pyrex is perfect and highly recommended as this is going to get really hot; corn will not pop in a bowl that is not microwave safe and 2) microwave-safe dinner plate. 

Ingredient: 2 tablespoons popping corn


Place popping corn in the bowl. 


Place inverted dinner plate on top of the bowl and place in microwave oven.


Microwave on High for 2 minutes 45 seconds. 


Done. Enjoy.

I couldn’t believe this the first time I tried it. So easy. So perfect. So bland! With this result in mind, I set out to see if I could improve on this recipe without sacrificing the easy, if not very cool, process. 


The addition of 2 tablespoons olive oil with the popping corn plus a quick finish with sea salt (or Himalayan Pink salt … yum!) once popping in complete, brings this method as near to perfection as can be expected this side of heaven. Simply amazing. 

I do have a cautionary note, so pay attention: The plate and the bowl will be very hot. Please, please be careful and use hot pads to remove the plate and bowl from the oven. Also, the time required to achieve a full and complete pop will depend on your microwave oven. I found that I needed to add up to one full minute with the addition of the olive oil. The brand and type of popping corn you use could also result in a different cooking time. You will need to experiment, which is quite fun.

As for a cost comparison, as I write, Orville Redenbacher’s 30-oz., original 100% natural, GMO free popping corn is $5.99 at my local supermarket. It contains 63 tablespoons of kernels, or enough to make 31.5 batches of popcorn using the method above–about $.19 per 2.5 quart size batch.

Orville Redenbacher’s Light Butter Microwave Popcorn containing three 2.9 oz bags is $4.39 at the same store. Each of these bags makes one 2.5 quart sized bowl of popped corn, or $1.46 per batch. 

In this example, prepackaged microwave popcorn that contains a substance that is likely to be carcinogenic to humans is nearly eight times more expensive than popping kernels. If all you really care about is the costs of things, think of the fact that the bowl and plate method demonstrated above uses pristine popping corn and olive oil and is free of all likely carcinogens and all of the ingredients are pronounceable as added bonuses. 

Ready to give it a try? Prepare to be amazed!

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9 replies
  1. Just Sayin!
    Just Sayin! says:

    I agree with the brown lunch bag system (check for any holes in it first). First, optional, but I do melt a tablespoon of butter before hand so it’s ready. Put 1/4 cup popcorn, 1 teaspoon oil (coconut is good, too) and salt into the bag, fold over twice to get air out and staple (never had it catch fire yet) once on each end. I set the microwave for 3 minutes, WATCH and LISTEN carefully as power varies among ovens, and mine is usually done way before 2 minutes – take out early. Carefully remove (those staples are hot) rip and put into a bowl, butter, toss, salt. This uses less oil than listed above, makes more popcorn but not too much.

  2. Angela Weaver
    Angela Weaver says:

    Best purchase for the kitchen I ever made was a whirly popper! We love popcorn around here and that thing is a workhorse and makes the best popcorn!

  3. Sophie LaFontaine
    Sophie LaFontaine says:

    The cancer risk is mostly for factory workers, as opposed to consumers eating a reasonable amount of microwaved popcorn.

  4. Gehugh
    Gehugh says:

    I cannot believe that with the wealth of nutrition and consumer safety information out there that microwave popcorn packets are still being sold and consumed. I had to educate our school that was using those packets for popping corn for a weekly fundraiser. There are many organizations that sell popcorn and popcorn products for fundraisers. Spread the word if you can. And while you are at it, view the film King Corn. You’ll think twice about your corn consumption.

  5. Robyn Yahola
    Robyn Yahola says:

    I have an even better, healthier method that is child-proof. Put 1/4 cup kernels into a brown lunch sack and fold over the top a couple of times. Use the Popcorn button on your microwave. You get air-popped popcorn with no mess and you don’t need the hotpads. I pour mine in a bowl, spritz with olive oil and garlic salt or salt and shake the bowl a bit. Also, keep your popcorn in the freezer; it will pop better (science fair project), and the more expenseive popcorn (like Orville Redenbacker’s) pops better so it really is cheaper. I keep a baggie of 1/4 cup popcorn kernals and a brown sack in my lunch box to take to work.

  6. Jean Crouse
    Jean Crouse says:

    A suggestion: after corn is popped just spritz it with butter-flavored oil, stir and sprinkle with a bit of salt, stir again. Healthier.

    • Honeywest
      Honeywest says:

      Really not healthier, check out how that butter-flavored oil is created. Authoritynutrition.com has science based evidence in stories that are easy to read. It’s a wealth of information on all types of food. Those oils are really scary when you investigate them. Stick to olive and coconut. Love the fact Mary used non-GMO corn!

      • Kari
        Kari says:

        Thank you for sharing the Authoritynutrition.com link, I found it to be very interesting and helpful.

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