How microwave popcorn works

There are many things in this world that symbolizes college students, beer, music, studying, but one of the most prevalent thing we think about is a college student’s diet, a diet that relies heavily on the microwave.  One of the most popular microwavable items, along with ramen and mac n’ cheese, would be popcorn.  Popcorn is a staple snack food in our society, but what exactly makes it pop?


To understand how microwavable popcorn works, we first must look at how regular stove top popcorn works.  Popcorn has been around for a very long time, and it was discovered by the Native Americans hundreds of years ago.  When popcorn pops it can expand to 40-50x it’s normal size.   There are three factors that determine whether or not a kernel will pop, those factors are moisture inside, starch inside, and the hard shell of the kernel.  When the kernel is heated, the shell keeps all the heat inside while the moisture gets more and more hot and increases pressure, which causes the starch to expand and eventually explode in all directions.  This is very similar to bread rising or silly string becoming solid outside of the can.

On the other end of microwave popcorn is the microwave itself.  A microwave operates by sending actual microwaves, not the contraption but the radio wave like particles, into food and stirring up the water molecules until they get hot.  These microwaves are shorter than radio waves, only about 5cm long, but are still very powerful and can cause a lot of harm to humans if they come in contact with them.


Microwavable popcorn bags work the same way a microwave will cook anything, by stirring up the moisture inside the kernels.  The bag keeps all of the steam and moisture trapped, allowing the kernels to heat up faster.  These bags are coated in the flavors you love, so when the popcorn pops it will pop right into them.

Unfortunately these oils and flavors can be very bad for your health, so when buying them look at the ingredients listed, some of the brands have many chemicals to improve taste.

popcorn thing

So if you have a hunch for some popcorn, take some time to think about the science behind it, it may make you appreciate your snack a little bit more.

4 thoughts on “How microwave popcorn works

  1. Jennifer Lee Wales

    It was so interesting to be able to read about popcorn, how it works, and the health aspect. Since I’ve been at school I feel like I have had SO much popcorn but it’s one of those things that I never really thought about! its a very interesting concept and its so cool that it went back to the native americans.

  2. Rebecca Danielle Schneider

    This blog caught my eye right away because I never knew how microwavable popcorn worked! It was also really cool to learn that it originated from Native Americans! You described the microwaving process very well and kept us all informed! The chart you provided with the different brands of popcorn was very helpful in seeing how they all compare and I will definitely use that as a reference the next time I buy popcorn. Personally, I prefer the non-microwavable popcorn better. Here’s my favorite kind that has an added sweet taste that you might like!

  3. Caroline Maria Teti

    I never actually thought about how popcorn was made until this post. That does make perfect sense! The starch becomes pressured while being heated and then just explodes causing the “pop”. Although, why does it burn? Just with the same reasoning as why most items burn?

    ….Now I really want to make some popcorn!

  4. btk5093

    A couple years ago my parents got me a popcorn machine for the holidays and I’ve used it like seven times. I really like it because the corn that I buy is really healthy and all natural. I put a little oil in and watch it pop. I like it better than the microwavable bags because the popcorn isn’t filled with butter and all of other things that make popcorn not good for you. The taste isn’t that good but I feel like its a quick and easy snack. I also love watching the kernels go flying in the machine and watch the popcorn being made, its really cool.

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