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.
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.