“The case of the deadly microwave popcorn” and the “Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act” sound to me like fodder for a Wallace and Gromit movie but they’re not. The U.S. House of Representatives actually passed the Act and there is ample information linking microwave popcorn to a variety of health issues.
It seems that there are a couple of things to worry about when it comes to microwave popcorn. The major concern is a chemical coating on the inside of the bag added to repel grease and keep the popcorn from sticking. The chemical is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and is also used in non-stick pans and Gore-Tex clothing.
This chemical builds up in the body over time and, in animal tests anyway, has been linked to reproductive and developmental issues and problems with the immune system and the liver. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers it a probable carcinogen and asked companies to voluntarily phase it out by 2015.
If that doesn't send you running in the opposite direction, consider this: the artificial butter flavouring often contains a chemical called diacetyl that when inhaled has been known to cause “popcorn lung”, a rare lung disease found in workers at microwave popcorn packaging plants. Some manufacturers have removed it from their products but now there is concern that the replacement chemical might cause respiratory issues too. Popcorn producers are not required to label Diacetyl and may list it simply as flavoring.
A couple of years ago I rediscovered the simple pleasure of stovetop popcorn. What had seemed daunting as a child is really as simple as sautéing onions. Sure you need to give the pot a few shakes as it cooks, but it isn’t as labour-intensive as it once seemed. Hot air poppers work great too.
Making popcorn from scratch means you can also avoid the excessive packaging used for the microwave version. Choose organic popping corn since corn is commonly genetically modified and heavily sprayed (Speerville Flour Mill offers organic popping corn).
Here is our favourite popcorn recipe:
3 tbsp canola or olive oil
½ cup popcorn kernels
2 tbsp butter
1or 2 tbsp maple syrup
Add the oil and then the popcorn to a large stainless pot with a lid. Cover and cook over medium-high heat, shaking a few times while you wait for the first pop. When the corn starts popping in earnest, shake the pot occasionally to keep things moving. When the popping has almost stopped remove from heat and when all is quiet tip the popped corn into a big bowl. Add the butter to the hot pot and swirl until it melts. Add the maple syrup to the melted butter and let it sit until it bubbles slightly. Swirl to combine the two and pour it over the hot popcorn.
Vitamin B boost:
Melt the butter as above and pour it over the popcorn, then sprinkle over 1-2 tbsp nutritional yeast. It adds a great nutty flavour. (Look for nutritional yeast in the natural food section of the grocery store or in health food stores.)
A bit of spice:
Or, add a small clove of garlic (sliced in half) to the butter as it melts. When melted add 1 tsp curry powder or chili powder, stir to combine and cook until fragrant (about a minute). Remove the garlic and pour over the popcorn. Squeeze a little lime juice overtop and season with salt and pepper before eating.
Melt butter as above and pour it over the popcorn, then sprinkle with 1/2 to 1 tsp of dried dill. Season with salt and pepper.
There is another alternative to scrubbing that pot.
In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup of kernels with 1/2 teaspoon of peanut or canola oil and 1/4 teaspoon of table salt. Place mixture in a paper lunch bag, fold the top over several times to seal. Shake the bag to distribute the kernels in the bag. Microwave about 1-2 minutes.
Cooking time will vary depending on your microwave power. It might take a few times to get it all cooked but not burned.
Then add your favourite toppings, melted butter, spices, etc.
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