Popcorn: The Official Coronavirus Snack

And how to make it yourself

We’re all in this unique scenario where we can stay home and save lives. How amazing! Unfortunately it’s also meant that many of us have lost our jobs or are working on a reduced income. You’re also more at risk for complications during Covid-19 if you’re overweight or generally unhealthy.

So we need to stay home, stay healthy, and save money.

Since we’re home all the time now, we’re all probably watching a little more Netflix than usual. Put all of this together and popcorn emerges as the official snack of the lockdown. It’s really cheap, delicious, and healthy as well as the default movie/TV show go-to snack.

How To Cook Popcorn on the Stove

Of course I’m not talking about pre-packaged popcorn you get from boxes. I’m talking about bags of plain kernels. If you’re still buying pre-packaged, I highly recommend giving plain kernels a try.

Now, you could throw the kernels into a brown paper bag and throw them in the microwave, but these turn out dry and tasteless. The better method is cooking them in a pot on the stove.

In short, here’s how it’s done:

  1. Pour a shallow layer of oil into a pot, just enough to cover the bottom.

  2. Put a few “tester” kernels into the oil and wait for them to pop. Your oil is now hot enough to pop popcorn.

  3. Put the rest of the kernels in. You can find measurements somewhere but you can just guess. A little goes a long way.

  4. Cover the pot. Don’t go anywhere. Don’t pull out your phone. You need to shake the pot to keep the kernels moving every few seconds or else they will burn.

  5. The kernels will start popping. Keep shaking occasionally and listen for the pops.

  6. Once you only hear pops every 6-8 seconds, they’re done. Take it off the heat and pour it into a large bowl.

  7. Add salt or other toppings.

Which oil to use

The type of oil you use matters a lot here. The oil needs to reach a high temperature in order for the kernels to pop. That means using an oil with a high smoke point. Olive oil is quite low so don’t use that. Clarified butter, canola oil, or peanut oil are good choices. By putting a few tester kernels in from the start and waiting for them to pop, you’ll know when the oil has reached a good temperature.

Best vessels for the job

Most pots will do. A thick-bottomed one helps the oil stay at a constant temperature. Many people swear by woks or large stainless steel bowls covered by aluminum foil. Their shape helps the unpopped kernels stay at the bottom and the popped kernels move up the side where it’s less hot. Whichever you decide to use, you shouldn’t have a good seal that traps the steam in. Steam will make your popcorn tough.

Why is shaking necessary

You need to shake the pot so that kernels don’t start to burn. Trust me, don’t skip this step. If the popcorn burns to the bottom of the pot, you’ll be scrubbing it for days.

What to top it with

Salt is the obvious place to start. You can take this to the next level by grinding it up in a spice grinder to make super-fine salt.

If movie-theater style popcorn is what you’re after, you’ll need Flavacol to achieve that. Although delicious, flavacol probably makes the popcorn much less healthy though.

My recommendation: try adding nutritional yeast. It adds kind of a cheesy, nutty flavor.

Before you go, a little science: Why does popcorn even pop?

An unpopped popcorn kernel is a tightly packed ball of starch. Inside this ball is a bit of water, which, when heated up, turns to steam. It tries to escape but can’t, due to the shell. Eventually, there’s enough pressure from the steam to break through the shell. The kernal pops and, on it’s way out, the steam cooks the starch and spreads out the starch in a fluffy form.

Check out this slow-mo video to watch the steam escape:

With all this new knowledge, you’re now a popcorn colonel. You’ve got the time. Get popping!

Comment below: what’s your favorite topping?