The Art of Popping Popcorn

Popping popcorn involves a touch of science, so rather than giving a set recipe, we will guide you how to get the most out of your popcorn kernels.

What you need to know

Popping corn is a variety of corn with a particularly tough shell, and the perfect moisture-starch ratio to enable it to pop and form delicious fluffy popcorns. There are a few varieties of popping corn, with the two most popular being Butterfly and Mushroom.

Butterfly popcorn is often used in cinemas and produce a tender irregular shaped popcorn which is ideal for holding powdered seasonings. Due to the shape of Butterfly popcorn, they are very delicate which results in a lot of crumbs at the bottom of your bowl.

Mushroom popcorn is slightly chewier than butterfly popcorn, but they pop much larger and have a rounder pop which is ideal for coating such as caramel popcorn.

General Popping Tips (All popcorn)

There are a lot of variables to consider when popping popcorn, and it may take a bit of trial and error to get the perfect pop. Ideally, you want to heat the moisture contained inside the popping corn as fast as possible without burning it. You also want have all the kernels to pop around the same time to avoid any early-popped kernels becoming chewy in a steaming pot.

There are a few methods to popping; Dry popping and Wet popping.

Dry popping involves using hot air to heat the kernels. Air poppers are now available at many outlets at affordable prices. Although the healthiest way to make popcorn, it often results in a dry and tasteless snack. Many domestic air poppers do not create enough heat to pop mushroom style popcorn properly, which can result in a chewy and misshapen popcorn that resembles butterfly style popcorn.

Wet popping involves popping the kernels in an oil. Due to the heat required, we recommend an oil with a high smoke point above 220°C such as Rice Bran oil, or Coconut oil.

Popping your kernels in oil enhances the nutty corn flavour and aids in holding onto seasonings.

Popping problems?

Small or Half-pops

If your popcorn is popping small or is not fully popping, you don’t have enough heat or it hasn’t heated quickly enough for the right explosion to take place. Another possible cause is too high moisture content if kernels were not stored in a sealed container.

Burnt and Unpopped popcorn

If your popcorn has unpopped kernels, some of which are burnt, you are likely cooking the popcorn too hot, too fast, or have not agitated the kernels enough.

Another reason may include what the industry calls “dead maids,” which are kernels that just wont pop. This is often caused if the moisture content of the kernel is too low, or the shell of the kernel has been damaged. Typically around 1% of the kernels are dead maids due to damage caused by harvesting, packaging and transportation. Sometimes it is simply not enough cooking time. This will take some practice to make perfect.

Popping Mushroom Type Popcorn

Mushroom popcorn requires a little more skill to pop right. If the temperature is too low, or popping time too long it will result in a subtly chewier Butterfly style popcorn, which is not the reason you bought this mushroom popcorn. Likewise, if you pop it at a temperature that is too hot, it will also result in a Butterfly style popcorn with a slight burnt taste.

Below are the common popping methods to get the best out of your mushroom popcorn. (instructional videos coming soon)

Wet popping (Stove-top)

This is the most common and recommended method to making good Mushroom style popcorn. For this you will need a lidded saucepan to prevent injury and keep your kitchen clean from flying hot popcorn.

Before you start, pour kernels into the bottom of the cool saucepan until it form a single layer. This will be the maximum kernel quantity you want to add to get the best result. Pour these kernels into a container and keep them handy for when cooking begins.

Place the saucepan onto high heat, and add a thin layer of oil (around half the height of a popcorn kernel). Add 3-5 testing kernels and continue to supervise the pan while occasionally shaking the pan lightly back and forth. When you notice bubbles forming around the kernels, place the lid on the pan to ensure hot oil won’t splash out. It is best to leave the lid on askew to allow sufficient steam to escape. Once 3 or more testing kernels have popped, place the previously measured kernels to the saucepan, again placing the lid on askew. Keep agitating the pan lightly back and forth to allow proper heating of the kernels and prevent burning. After about 1-2 minutes, the kernels should start to pop, and may pop vigorously. During this time, agitate the pan a little harder until popping has almost stopped. Tip the popcorn into a bowl and season while warm for best adhesion.

Wet popping (Microwave)

Popping Mushroom popcorn in a microwave is NOT recommended as the results are similar to a poor quality butterfly popcorn. However, if you are feeling optimistic here is a quick guideline. In a small bowl, add desired kernels and add a little oil ensuring each kernel is fully coated. Add kernels to paper bag and fold the opening closed two or three folds. Add to microwave and cook on high (around 3 minutes) until popping has slowed to a few pops.

Dry popping (Air popping)

Most domestic air poppers have trouble reaching and maintaining the temperature required to successfully pop mushroom kernels. It is best to follow the directions of the machine making a few changes. We recommend preheating the air popper for a few minutes, then adding a few kernels to test how it pops. If the popcorn comes out as you would expect, then add half the directed amount of kernels. Keep increasing the amount of kernels in subsequent batches until a few start coming out as butterfly popcorn. This will be your optimum kernel quantity for future air popper mushroom popcorn popping adventures.

Dry popping (Sand)

Uncommon in Western civilisations, however popular in the Middle East. Sand popping is quite good at popping mushroom style popcorn and the results are certainly not gritty popcorn.