Microwave Popcorn May be Trouble in a Bag

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.

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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.

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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

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Place popping corn in the bowl. 

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

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Microwave on High for 2 minutes 45 seconds. 

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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. 

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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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38 replies
  1. disqus_76IWPka2vZ
    disqus_76IWPka2vZ says:

    I have been using these for years. The disks must be replaced periodically.
    Presto 04830 PowerPop Microwave Multi-Popper, Black $15 97
    Presto 09964 Microwave Power Pop Powercup Popcorn Concentrator Cup – 48 Pack $13.11

    Reply
  2. D.Brown
    D.Brown says:

    I loved this popcorn. I think the olive oil made it taste great. I did have to cook it longer than Mary but it was worth the extra time.

    Reply
  3. JSE
    JSE says:

    I tried this – with the oil, using a Pyrex bowl – only a few kernels popped. Had just bought popcorn, so I don’t think freshness was the issue.

    Reply
  4. grammygooch
    grammygooch says:

    My glass pyrex bowl exploded and broke after popping the corn in microwave. I placed hot bowl on granite counter, perhaps that was too much of a temperature difference. Tell me what you think happened……

    Reply
  5. Debbie Patterson
    Debbie Patterson says:

    I tried this last night in my microwave and had a fire. Now I have to purchase a new microwave. It was not cost effective for me 🙁

    Reply
  6. pennynibbelin
    pennynibbelin says:

    This did not work for me. Only a few popped. I use an air popper, but my popcorn is always soggy….even a brand new bag. I can’t find a brand that will come out right. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  7. KGresk
    KGresk says:

    Once upon a time I bought a Orville Redenbacher microwave popper. Instead of using their paper popping disk, I use the bottom of an oatmeal box. They last about forever and cost nothing.
    Once popped I spray the popcorn with butter-flavored cooking oil, to allow butter-flavored salt to stick and for flavor. Very few calories result and yummy.

    Reply
  8. Gigi
    Gigi says:

    Lots of conflicting info on GMO vs. non GMO corn. Whom to believe? I have friends that are farmers and almost all corn is GMO. Need to ask about the popcorn but at one point, she cautioned me about that as I LOVE popcorn. When I do fix it, t is the old fashioned way….on stove (microwave concerns) and with coconut oil. Yum

    Reply
  9. DianaB
    DianaB says:

    There is still available (apparently not in all areas however) the fun Jiffy Pop–the ones in the aluminum pan that you heat up on the stove and the kids love it. You will have to search for locations available under Jiffy Pop. I think I have found mine still at Winn Dixie. Anyway, no matter what you do, popcorn at home is still fun. You can always use your cast iron dutch oven, as well, with watching.

    Reply
    • KGresk
      KGresk says:

      Isn’t kettle corn popcorn with sugar added? I spray popped corn with butter-flavoered spray oil and use butter-flavored salt for low calories and great taste.
      You might try adding sugar to your salt (maybe with rice added to prevent clumping).

      Reply
      • Cheryll Jeffcoat
        Cheryll Jeffcoat says:

        I don’t know…it’s slightly sweet but so low cal perhaps it has artificial sugar. I’ve tried flavors (made for popcorn shakers) and spraying with cooking oil so they’ll stick, but it’s not as good as what can be bought already seasoned.

  10. PH
    PH says:

    I make mine the old-fashioned way – on the stove with a bit of butter and/or oil. Shake from time to time to avoid sticking/burning.

    Reply
    • susan-librarian
      susan-librarian says:

      I have a question about using the plate on top of the bowl. Why can’t you simply use the lid that comes with the bowl? Is it too nearly airtight? Thanks to anyone who can answer!

      Reply
  11. Ang
    Ang says:

    Isn’t cooking in microwave bad too? How about air popped popcorn, over a fire or a crazy stir popper. Curious about health concerns with microwave cooking.

    Reply
  12. Guest
    Guest says:

    According to the USDA: Brown paper bags from the grocery store: “They are not sanitary, may cause a fire, and can emit toxic fumes. Intense heat may cause a bag to ignite, causing a fire in the oven… . The ink, glue, and recycled materials in paper bags can emit toxic fumes when they are exposed to heat. Instead, use purchased oven cooking bags” http://lifehacker.com/what-should-and-shouldnt-i-microwave-1532532172

    Reply
    • Deb R.
      Deb R. says:

      I don’t think this refers to lunch bags but rather to brown paper grocery bags (for those that don’t want plastic or don’t bring their own.

      Reply
      • DianaB
        DianaB says:

        I would love to be able to choose paper over plastic but that option was removed years ago (grocery shopping here, not popping corn). I use my Walmart blue bags and have used the same 7 of them since they first sold them a number of years back and they are holding up just fine. As far as the USDA is concerned, we would all be dead and underground if we heeded every stupid little thing they put out. Oven cooking bags and then throw those little expenses away? I don’t think so. Lunch bags are just fine, thank you very much.

  13. Guest
    Guest says:

    This just in: xecutive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology and GMO expert, says that even though almost 90% of the corn grown and eaten in this country is GMO corn,popcorn comes from a different seed and has not been genetically modified.

    Reply
    • Jenna
      Jenna says:

      Exactly. This is why claiming that something is non-GMO really doesn’t mean anything. Besides, there has never been a single study that found a GMO to cause harm in any way. It is very necessary to feed a planet whose population is expanding as ours is.

      Reply
  14. Angela Weaver
    Angela Weaver says:

    I LOVE my whirley popper! It makes lots of popcorn right on the stove top and my boys love to turn the handle to keep the popcorn moving around. Delicious popcorn AND entertainment!

    Reply
  15. Denise Sutton Stripling
    Denise Sutton Stripling says:

    I’ve been popping in a lunch size brown bag which provides a healthy organic popcorn snack with portion control (avoiding waste or overeating because it’s already popped). I do love it being popped in olive oil with this method! Anxious to try!! Thank you!

    Reply
  16. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    I’m like the others. 1/4 c. popcorn in a brown lunch bag. When I’m through I can drizzle a little flavored oil on it if I want, but usually I just add a bit of salt, shake and enjoy.

    Reply
  17. Linda
    Linda says:

    I have found the Anchor bowls at Target to be perfect for this method. Also Bed Bath and Beyond has a wonderful red BPA free plastic cover that has tiny holes in it. They also have perfect little microwave pinchers for removing the hot bowl. I use a little of Mary’s “soft spreadable butter,” some of Trader Joe’s organic popcorn kernels, and I have a delicious bowl of popcorn daily!!

    Reply
    • Guest
      Guest says:

      That works, I’m sure! My challenge at this moment (you know if you read faithfully) I’m living in a tiny space. I would have to wonder, where will I store this red plastic cover with tiny holes in it. I love using a dinner plate because I already have 6 dinner plates. And I use that bowl for salad, to mix muffins, etc. Dual purposes … and I don’t have to scramble to find a bag! 🙂

      Reply
  18. Sarah A.
    Sarah A. says:

    I recently purchased the Catamount Glassware Microwave Corn Popper, which is made of the same glass used in laboratories. It makes great popcorn and washes clean very easily in the sink. I’ve experimented with coconut oil, butter, and salt, and it all washes away easily when I’m done. It’s a bit of money upfront (about $22 online right now), but I’m going to be using it for years to come. It’s probably a little easier to handle than a glass bowl and plate, so if a person didn’t own a suitable bowl already, they might want to think about investing in the Catamount.

    Reply
  19. Joan
    Joan says:

    I, also, use the brown paper method. I have popped my corn this way for many years with no problem and nothing gets hot enough to burn me.

    Reply
  20. Deb R.
    Deb R. says:

    So, does this mean that using the plain old paper bag (old fashioned lunch bags, lol) isn’t safe either? I just put kernals in a paper bag and pop them.

    Reply
    • Guest
      Guest says:

      I don’t know. What is used to make a plain old paper bag? Does anyone know? Are brown paper bags manufactured using food standards? If you have to buy lunch bags to make popcorn, that is an added expense.

      Reply
      • Deb R.
        Deb R. says:

        40 bags for $1.00 at Dollar Tree, so not a great expense. But I have no idea as to what the standards are for brown paper bags.

  21. Jenna
    Jenna says:

    I see that you’ve identified Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn as “none GMO” (sic). I’m curious: would you be able to identify a brand of popcorn that IS GMO?

    Reply
    • Guest
      Guest says:

      You know Jenna, I read recently that all popping corn is non GMO but I have not been able to independently verify that. Do you have reliable info on that? Thanks for your eagle eyes … fixing typo now.

      Reply
      • PH
        PH says:

        It’s true that the type of corn used for popping is non-GMO, as is almost all corn used for actual human eating (e.g., corn on the cob, canned corn, etc.). It’s #2 corn (the most common corn grown) that’s GMO. #2 corn is the type of corn used for animal feed (which humans will eventually eat), corn syrups (includes HFCS), and corn product derivatives.

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