A recent article in the LA Times (registration required, but free) gives us yet another good reason to eschew microwave popcorn: the flavor agent, diacetyl, widely used to give microwave popcorn its buttery flavor has been tied to the development of an irreversible lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans that’s been cropping up with alarming regularity in the workers at popcorn factories.
The article hastened to add that at this point consumers are not thought to be at risk. Right. I don’t know about you, but based on the track record of the food toxin watchdogs in this country, I wouldn’t be betting my lungs on their timely notification/admission that the stuff DOES put consumers at risk, if such were to prove the case.
Anyway, the whole diacetyl mess is just one more example of the law of unintended consequences. Had ‘they’ not gotten their britches in an unjustified and unnecessary twist over the use of real butter in the first place, there would never have been a need for using diacetyl to impart an artificial ‘real butter’ flavor to popcorn (and other products) and none of these workers victimized by inhaling the chemical would have succumbed to this awful disease. So sad and so preventable.
Now, off my soapbox and back to popcorn…
While popcorn may seem like an odd topic for a carb conscious person, such as I, to be riffing on, it’s actually not too bad a carb bargain. A 1-cup serving popped in oil has 55 calories, 28 of them from fat, 1 gram of protein, 6.3 grams of total carb, 1.1 grams of fiber, and therefore, an ECC of only 5.2 grams. Not a bad snack. The problem, of course, is that it is an antigenic grain that many people do not tolerate, but that’s another blog. For those interested, see our discussion of wheat and corn and various autoimmune and inflammatory disorders in The Protein Power LifePlan (Warner 2000).
Over the years in our practice, we had many patients who enjoyed a little popcorn snack. One gentleman comes to mind, in particular, who ate a measured cup of popcorn every evening during his successful weight loss endeavor under our watch. Fortunately, it was airpopped, not microwaved, that he craved.
Suffice it to say that until ‘they’ can prove to me there’s not a health risk from eating the aritifically flavored microwaved form, my feeling is that those people who just must have a bit of popcorn would be better served to do it the old fashioned way. For those who grew up in the age of microwave popped corn, here’s how to do it:
Put a heavy bottomed pan on the stove, add a a bit of good high-temp stable oil, such as coconut oil, turn the heat to medium to heat the oil. Then cover the bottom of the vessel with (untainted) popping corn, put a lid on it, turn the heat to medium high, and wait for the pop…pop…popping to start.
Meanwhile, melt some real honest-to-Pete (preferably organic) butter in the microwave (the only proper use for this kitchen appliance in making popcorn, for sure!) and have it ready.
When the popping starts, shake the pot vigorously intermittantly to prevent kernels on the bottom from burning, because nothing smells worse than burned popcorn and, besides, it ruins the flavor of the whole batch. One bad apple may not spoil the whole bunch, girl (apologies to Wacko Jacko) but one burned popcorn kernel sure does.
Conversely, nothing sets a mouth to watering quite like the smell of freshly popped corn. It’s an aroma so enticing that at our clinic we forbade the staff from popping popcorn on the premises during business hours, since it sent the poor patients in the exam and waiting rooms into a Pavlovian dither.
When the corn is fully popped, crack open the lid, pour on the real melted butter, sprinkle on a touch of salt and enjoy your cup. If you made a lot more than a cup, be sure you invited friends over to help consume it. Beware! If you’re like me, left alone with a big bowl of hot buttered popcorn, your measured 1 cup will become 4 cups before you can blink and a reasonable 5 grams will become 20.