Standing at the stove, oven mitt holding the lid as the oil heats over a measured amount of popcorn, a woman shimmies the pot, willing the popcorn to pop. That's how most people popped corn before widespread use of the microwave oven. Microwavable bags of popcorn are not the only alternative to pan popping corn; there are also hot air poppers, kettle corn poppers, microwave poppers (without bags) and stovetop poppers.
In a report about the history of popcorn, the Popcorn Company website claims that some ancient poppers remain in use today. The Papagos of Arizona reportedly still use large clay vessels, similar to those of their ancestors of ancient Mexico and South America, to pop corn over a fire. The company also says the Midwestern Winnebago Indians continue to pop corn right on the cob, and none of them can remember popping corn any other way.
Different Ways to Pop
Using no oil to pop corn means you are not adding calories. That's the healthy benefit of a hot air popper. Hot air heats the kernels placed in the popping chamber until they pop. The popped corn flows from a spout on top of the popper into a bowl.
Another oil-free alternative is the microwave popper. Popcorn kernels are placed into the bottom of the bowl and covered with a lid. A few minutes later, you could have 12 cups of freshly popped popcorn.
Most movie theaters and arena concession stands use kettle poppers. These commercial poppers allow the integration of oil, butter and other seasonings so the popcorn is flavored when popped. This popcorn is a delight to the eyes as you watch the popped corn cascade into a transparent glass-walled container, while emitting an aroma that makes your mouth water.
An example of a stovetop popper is the Whirly Pop. As with pan popping, oil or shortening is placed in the base and heated over the burner before putting in the popcorn. However, instead of shaking the pot to get the kernels to pop, the handle on top of the popper is used to swirl the popcorn as it pops.
Bags of microwave popcorn--the method used most often by Americans to pop popcorn--has come under fire in recent years. In 2007, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) had health concerns about diacetyl, the artificial butter flavoring added to microwave popcorn and other snacks.
Automatic vs. Non-Automatic
The Popcorn Institute says when buying an electric popper, it's important to know if the popper is automatic or non-automatic. An automatic machine will shut off the heating element after the popping cycle ends. The non-automatic won't, and it will burn the popcorn if it is not watched closely. Non-automatic poppers also must be disconnected immediately after use.