We all struggle to provide good nutrition in an appealing food at an affordable price for our families, and helping you do this is a large part of my job. Working with nutrition education through the schools and out in the community is one of my favorite things about being an FCS Extension Agent.
Popcorn has always been something I’ve promoted as a healthy snack, but new research indicates it is better for us than we knew. Last month, newly published research reported that popcorn had more ‘polyphenols’ than many fruits and vegetables. The difference is due in large part to the amount of water in the food (high in most fruits and vegetables), which dilutes the polyphenol. This is easy to understand when we think about the nutritional value differences in fresh versus dried fruit. There is little water in popcorn, so the polyphenols are more concentrated in a serving.
What is a polyphenol? It is an antioxidant which removes free radicals from our body. Health research suggests that free radicals stimulate the growth of cancer cells in the human body.
Popcorn is also a whole grain, so it provides high levels of fiber, another essential component of a healthy diet. But it isn’t a perfect food: it is missing many of the vitamins founds in fruits and vegetables. So while we present popcorn as a healthy option, it shouldn’t be the only snack we offer youth.
Preparation of the popcorn is a major factor in determining just how healthy a snack it will be. Air-popping is the healthiest way to prepare popcorn. If that isn’t possible, purchase the plain popcorn and pop it yourself. This will allow you to limit the use of oil and other additives.
Skillet or Electric Frying Pan Popping:
· Measure 3 parts corn to 1 part oil
· The amounts will vary depending on the size of the pan but one cup of unpopped popcorn will produce 40 cups of popped popcorn- 1/4 or 1/3 of a cup makes a pretty big bowl of popcorn! For this amount 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil is enough. It is also recommended that butter not be used to pop popcorn as it will burn before reaching the temperature that is required to pop popcorn - more suitable oils are coconut oil or canola oil.
· You will need to leave enough room in the pan for the popcorn while it is popping
· Once the popcorn has begun to pop it is not recommended that the lid be removed as hot kernels can pop out of the pan and hit someone!
· Measure the oil into the pan and add 2-3 kernels of popcorn. Turn the stove on high. When you hear that they have popped, then add the remaining amount of popcorn. The reason for this is that popcorn pops at a very high temperature and the best way to determine when the oil is hot enough, is to test it on a few kernels.
· Shake the pan while you are popping, to ensure that the unpopped kernels remain at the bottom of the pan where the heat is so that they can be popped.
· When the popping slows down to only a pop or two a second, turn off the stove and move the pan.
· Use salt sparingly. Try Cajun, Mexican, Italian or other herbs and spices to flavor the popcorn. These flavorings cut down the need for salt. It is recommended that salt not be added until after popping is finished as this will result in a more tender puff.
· Sugar, cinnamon sugar, parmesan cheese, even drink powders like crystal light or kool aid types can be sprinkled over the top to change up the flavor!
· Try it without butter. If you need something to hold the spices and other flavorings onto the kernels, try drizzling the popcorn with olive oil or applying a cooking spray very sparingly.
· I have used ranch dressing/dip mix powder over freshly popped popcorn and I didn’t need any butter or spray oil to make it stick. I think the key is to put the seasoning powders on the popcorn while it is still hot and has some moisture left on it. For one big bowl (about 1/3 c. unpopped popcorn) I used maybe ½ an envelope of ranch mix. I love the flavor! I think a taco seasoning or other dip mix would be great as well. Just don’t add any extra salt as dip and dressing mixes already have quite a bit of salt in them. You can add in some crunchy whole grain cereal, nuts, and/or pretzels to make a great trail mix. Just make sure you keep any leftover popcorn in an airtight container to avoid it getting soggy/stale.