In my house, popcorn is a staple of any movie night or TV show binge. So much so that I’ve considered adding an old-timey popcorn maker like they have at the movies to my home theater, complete with its own butter dispenser.
However, I know deep down that expense is completely unnecessary. And regularly eating popcorn loaded with butter isn’t the best choice for my diet. So, when I’m craving popcorn I usually find myself buying a ready-made bag from the store, or throwing some Orville Redenbacher into the microwave.
The problem is, neither of these options is truly “healthier” than what you get at the movies, despite being low in fat and high in fiber. What’s more, the taste is never as good and the microwave version is rumored to be dangerously loaded with chemicals.
Could that be true? If so, what’s a popcorn-loving girl to do when the next season of Cobra Kai drops and she needs a healthy snack?
The Dangers Of Microwave Popcorn
The real story behind microwave popcorn being linked to negative health effects like cancer and dangerous lung conditions doesn’t actually have anything to do with the popcorn itself. Instead, it’s all about the packaging.
Microwave popcorn bags used to have chemicals in them called perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, that resist grease. This characteristic made the use of these compounds ideal for preventing oil from seeping through the popcorn packaging.
The problem with PFCs is that they break down into perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which can make its way into the popcorn when heated up. As you eat the popcorn, the PFOA will get into your bloodstream and stay there for a long time.
But this problem doesn’t just belong to microwave popcorn bags. PFCs have been used in everything from pizza boxes to sandwich wrappers to Teflon pans. Again, because of their grease-resisting properties.
In fact, PFCs have been used so often with packaging that an estimated 98 percent of Americans are thought to have PFOA in their blood. This kind of infiltration rate is why a group of researchers known as the C8 Science panel studied the effects of PFOA exposure in people that lived near a plant that had been releasing it into the environment since the 1950s.
Their research found that PFOA exposure could be linked to several human health conditions, including kidney cancer and testicular cancer. This led to a review from the US Food and Drug Administration, which resulted in a major shakeup in the world of food packaging.
In 2011, food manufacturers voluntarily stopped using PFOA in their product bags. Five years later, the FDA banned the use of three other PFCs. So, the microwave popcorn you buy today doesn’t include these chemicals.
Decades ago, microwave popcorn was also linked to a serious disease known as “popcorn lung” because of a chemical known as diacetyl. This chemical gave microwave popcorn that buttery flavor and aroma. But when inhaled in large amounts, it was linked to severe and irreversible lung damage.
After numerous studies—and hundreds of workers in popcorn factories getting diagnosed with the disease and dying—popcorn manufacturers removed diacetyl from their products in 2007.
The bottom line is that the chemicals in microwave popcorn and its packaging that were once linked to cancer and popcorn lung have all been removed. However, microwave popcorn still has chemicals. And this method still doesn’t give consumers control over the fat and salt content in their popcorn.
Popping At Home Is Easier And Cheaper
To avoid the chemicals that remain in microwave popcorn—and to get control over the butter and salt content—the answer, my friends, is an air popper. And in 2022, they even make them for the microwave!
Snack on healthy, yummy popcorn at home with the Salbree Microwave Popcorn Popper, which doesn’t require any oil (unless you want to)! All you have to do is pop your favorite kernels with this popper inside the microwave, and then add your favorite toppings. Perfect for small kitchens, the silicon popping bowl is collapsible for easy storage.
Take your gourmet popcorn experience to the next level with a durable Ecolution Microwave Micro-Pop Popcorn Popper made from temperature-safe borosilicate glass. Again, no oil or butter is needed, but you can melt some butter with the dual function lid to get those gourmet results. This popper is dishwasher safe, budget-friendly, and will have a healthy snack ready in under three minutes.
This option from the Dash store gives the old electric poppers from my childhood a much-needed update. The Dash SmartStore Deluxe Stirring Popcorn Maker is a hot oil electric popcorn machine that will produce 24 cups of movie-theater-style popcorn in the comfort of your home.
The best part of this machine (in my buttery popcorn-loving opinion) is the built-in butter melting tray that adds the butter to the popcorn while it cooks. That tray also doubles as a steam vent, which makes popcorn from this little appliance the best you will ever have. No microwaves or stoves are needed!
If you would prefer popcorn from the stovetop, check out this option from Great Northern. Its original stainless-steel 6.5-quart popcorn popper makes a whopping 5 quarts of popcorn in just minutes. The innovative design of this popper allows moisture to escape during the popping process so “your popcorn will be hot, crunchy, and mouth-watering.”
Our Favorite Healthy Flavor Combos
I have talked a lot about butter so far, but there are much healthier flavor options for popcorn. When seasoning your popcorn at home, the possibilities are endless and way healthier than pouring a bunch of fat into the bowl.
Like cooking, loading up on spices and seasoning can add a lot of flavor without a lot of calories. Mix together curry powder and cayenne for a spicy kick, or add nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and a twist of black pepper for a cheesy, savory bite.
If you have a sweet tooth, cinnamon and cocoa powder with a dash of your favorite sweetener makes the perfect post-dinner treat. Or go all out by adding chopped banana chips, chopped walnuts, and a sprinkle of allspice for a banana bread spin.
Eating popcorn from a store-bought or microwaved bag is so unnecessary. Spending a few dollars on an air popper that you can use in the microwave—or an electric or stove-top version—is definitely the way to go. Not just for your budget, but for your waistline. Popcorn can be a healthy snack, as long as you avoid the pre-made bags.