You Are What You Eat – Microwave Popcorn

Popcorn - Credit: Tripp FendersonThis is the first in a series of posts I’m going to entitle You Are What You Eat. In the case of microwave popcorn, you’re both broke and unhealthy. But wait, isn’t microwave popcorn supposed to be the cheap, healthy alternative to traditional snack foods? Well, in fact, popcorn can be a cheap, healthy alternative to traditional snack food – if you buy a bag of popping corn and pop it yourself.

Let’s look at the economics of consumer popcorn first. I went to two of my local grocery stores (one a big chain store, the other an independent store) to survey the prices of microwave popcorn and bags of popping corn, both organic and non-organic varieties. I used the cheaper price of the two stores to compile the table below.

Popcorn Brand Microwave or
Popping Corn
Price Weight Price Per Bag
Whole Alternatives Organics Microwave $3.79 297g
(or 3x99g Bags)
Orville Redenbacher Buttery Microwave $5.19 594g
(or 6x99g Bags)
Nature’s Way Organic Popping Corn $3.99 480g $0.82
Orville Redenbacher Popping Corn $5.29 850g $0.62
Uncle Bob’s Popping Corn $1.99 900g $0.22

I think the prices speak for themselves, but I’ll speak for them anyways. The difference between a bag of Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn, and the amount of popping corn necessary to make one equivalent bag can be as high as $0.85. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it could add up to almost $100 saved in a year for a household that makes two bags a week.

So why does microwave popcorn cost more? Convenience? These days, it takes about 2 minutes to microwave a bag of popcorn. I can pop an equivalent amount of popping corn in about 5 minutes. It’s easy! All you need is a stove, a pot with a lid and some kind of oil. I use olive oil personally. Coat the bottom of the pot with a thin layer of oil, dump in your kernels, put the lid on and wait! Better yet, use an air popper and save the cost of the oil. While you’re waiting, you can think about how much money you’re saving! When you’re done, garnish as you please or enjoy it naturally. But don’t forget to factor in the cost of salt and butter – it will eat into your savings (no pun intended). And if you really just need to microwave your popcorn, get a paper bag and do it yourself.

But what about the health benefits of eating popped over microwave popcorn? Let’s compare the ingredients of microwave popcorn to popping corn:

Orville Redenbacher Buttery Microwave Popcorn: Popping corn, palm oil (contains TBHQ, citric acid), salt, potassium chloride, natural and artificial butter flavour (contains milk), butter, colour.

So what is all that stuff in microwave popcorn? Well, TBHQ and citric acid are preservatives to enhance storage life. Potassium chloride is a salt substitute that is often mixed with real salt because potassium chloride itself doesn’t taste very appealing. Natural and artificial butter flavour could be absolutely anything! But it contains milk so it must be good for you! Ya right…oohh, look, butter, I know what that is! What’s the point of spending all that money on real ingredients like butter when you can use artificial butter flavour? And since one only knows what all this stuff looks like when you put it all together, let’s just add some colour to make it look like it should.

Lest we not forget that microwave popcorn is wasteful. Consider all the packaging that goes into microwave popcorn – the box that holds the individual paper bags which are individually wrapped in plastic. Oh and did I mention that microwave popcorn bags are typically coated with non-stick chemicals which can break down to a compound called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) when you heat the bag in the microwave. And here’s the good news – PFOA is a known likely human carcinogen present throughout our environment. I’m not going to fear monger and tell you that eating microwave popcorn will give you cancer. The doses are quite low and its unknown exactly how much PFOA will cause cancer. But the thing about carcinogens is every little bit counts. Every exposure to PFOA, no matter how big or small, increases your cancer risk just a little bit. And given that PFOA is everywhere (to the point where the US Environmental Protection Agency is working with eight of the biggest American PFOA manufacturers to discontinue production of the chemical by 2015), its just good precaution to limit our exposure as much as we can.

I like to abide by the KISS philosophy – keep it simple and stupid. Popping corn fits perfectly. Let’s look at the ingredients of popping corn…

Popping Corn Popcorn: Popping corn.

You will need to cook with an oil of your choice (unless you have an air popper) and you may choose to garnish with butter or salt. Simple and stupid. And healthy and economical. How much better does it get? Well, personally, I buy Uncle Bob’s popping corn which is packaged in a basic plastic, resealable bag and is a local Ontario product, grown and produced within hours of my house. So its environmentally friendly to boot.

So stop wasting your money…and your health…and the environment. The next time you buy popcorn, buy a bag of popping corn and make it yourself. It will taste that much better!

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