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.

Popcorn and 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.

A bowl of food sitting on a counter, with Microwave popcorn

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

A bowl of food on a table, with Popcorn and Bag

Place popping corn in the bowl. 

Popcorn and Bag

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

Popcorn and Bag

Microwave on High for 2 minutes 45 seconds. 

Popcorn and Bowl

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. 

Microwave popcorn

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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  1. 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

    • 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.

      • 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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!!

    • 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! 🙂

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  10. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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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