Popcorn—A Satisfying Snack
POPCORN is no “junk food.” It is a nutritious whole-grain snack.
The kernel is practically all hard starch, but inside it there is a tiny amount of moisture that turns into steam when heated and explodes into a fluffy, fragrant, white ball 30 to 40 times its original size. At the same time that warm, tantalizing aroma fills the room.
Its Value as a Food
Nutritionist Kay Munsen of Iowa State University says: “Plain popcorn is an ideal snack. It is not sugary, sweet, fatty, too salty, expensive, or fattening.” And Dr. Betty Alford, chairman of nutrition and food sciences at Texas Women’s University, has stated that one big advantage of eating popcorn is that “it’s filling but you’re not ingesting a lot of calories.” In fact, one cup of unbuttered popcorn has 23 calories compared to 230 calories in one cup of corn chips.
If you don’t drink anything the whole time you’re eating it, the dry popcorn draws the fluids out of your system and gives your saliva glands a healthy workout. Besides, it is like swallowing a sponge that soaks up stomach acids, and does away with heartburn and indigestion.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, popcorn is 77 percent carbohydrate, 12 percent protein, 5 percent fat and 2 percent minerals. The tiny kernels contain the B-complex vitamins—niacin, thiamine and riboflavin, as well as vitamin E.
The American Dental Association recommends popcorn as a snack because it is crunchy, not sticky, and contains no sugar. So much chewing has to be done to break it up that eating popcorn is good exercise for teeth and gums and has a certain amount of cleansing action.
Popcorn was introduced to early American settlers by the Indians. Today it is popular at movies, ball parks, zoos, the circus and all sorts of sporting events. in the United States, however, about 85 percent of popcorn consumed is prepared at home.
Some Tips on Preparing It
Popping the small roundish kernels is so simple that children delight in doing it. It can be popped in a wire basket shaken over the fire, in a skillet, automatic frypan, Dutch oven, or a more elaborate electric popper.
Watch that you don’t put too much corn in the popper! About one half cup of kernels with three tablespoons of oil (butter will burn) will fill a four-quart popper heaping full.
A good way to test a container is first to put in the oil and one kernel. When it pops you knows the oil is heated properly. Add the rest of the corn and cover. Be careful not to scorch it. And be sure the steam can escape or else it will make the popped corn tough and soggy. Salt, added before popping, tends to toughen the corn too. If you are not using an electric popper, shake the container constantly to make sure every kernel is heated equally and none is allowed to scoot off to the side.
If the popcorn you purchase comes in a glass jar or other airtight container, it is good to keep the container closed tightly to preserve just the degree of moisture that comes in the corn. Do not refrigerate but keep at room temperature. If low in moisture content because it is old or has not been vacuum sealed, then put it in a cheesecloth bag, submerge it in water, drain and hang up in a cool cellar for at least 24 hours before popping.
Freshly popped corn, warm and fragrant, is hard to improve on. But if there is a bad aspect, it might be that it can be served in so many combinations that make it a confection. Who can resist caramel or molasses popcorn balls? There are recipes for making peanut-butter nougat bars, popcorn mint chocolate bars, even popcorn pies. Or, if you prefer, it is easy to add to buttered popcorn a pinch of garlic and onion salt and some shredded Cheddar cheese, melted and gently stirred to create a mouth-watering snack!
This is far afield from the simple bowl of lightly buttered popcorn with which we started. But, however you serve it, a big bowl of popcorn can be a fragrant, hunger-satisfying snack.