Make Popcorn Healthier

Popcorn can be a healthy snack as long as it isn't drowned in butter, sugar or salt.

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Bag of Popcorn

Popcorn is not a guilty pleasure. If not drowned in butter, sugar or salt, it's a perfectly acceptable snack that offers good roughage and all for only 31-35 calories in one cup. If popped in a pan, not the microwave, it's a "cents-ible" snack. Mere pennies bring this pleasure to the palate.

So go ahead and get poppin'. Turn your kitchen into a day camp or science lab for the kids. Popcorn is not only delicious but educational, practically an American icon associated with fun places such as movie theaters and ballparks. By association and sound effects, popcorn practically guarantees good times. The Popcorn Board explains that early Americans threw popcorn kernels directly into the fire or into heated sand. Once popped, the corn was sifted and then pounded into a fine, powdery meal and later mixed with water for eating. This was a handy food for traveling, they say.

Have little ones step into your kitchen lab to learn about "popability." That's popcorn lingo for the percentage of kernels that pop. Processors make sure the moisture level in popcorn is 13.5 percent or 14 percent to ensure maximum "popability." This small amount of water in each kernel is surrounded by soft starch and a hard outer surface. As the kernel is heated, the water turns to steam, but the harder surface resists the water pressure. When the kernel explodes, the soft starch pops out, the kernel turns inside out and the steam is released (through a vented lid or special microwave bag). Popcorn kernels can pop up to 3 feet in the air.

Enjoy these recipes from the Popcorn Board.

Custom Party Pop

Ingredients:

hot popped popcorn
butter-flavored popcorn salt
nuts (peanuts, slivered almonds, etc.)
canned shoestring potatoes or pretzel sticks
dried fruit (raisins, diced apricots, dried cranberries or blueberries)
soy nuts or chocolate-covered soy nuts
pumpkin seeds (called pepitas, no hulls)
chocolate chips or carob pieces

Preparation:

Set out a large bowl of popcorn. Have a shaker of butter-flavored popcorn salt for people to suit themselves (supervise salting for the very young). Put bowls of any or all the popcorn accompaniments in little satellite bowls around the big bowl of popcorn in the center. Let each person fill a small bowl with popcorn and top or mix with their desired go-withs.

Serving tips: Instead of individual bowls for this portable popcorn snack, provide little paper sacks or mini-brown bags for filling with popcorn-plus-stuff or buy colored paper cartons, the kind you fold yourself, attaching a wire bail handle (either Chinese takeout style or the colored ones from party stores).

Yield: Suit the size of the munch bunch

Five-Spice Popcorn

Ingredients:

2-1/2 qts. popped popcorn
1 cup crisp chow mein noodles
1/2 cup peanuts
1/3 cup peanut oil
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. five-spice powder
1/2 tsp. each garlic powder, sesame salt or salt, ground ginger
1/4 tsp. each sugar, cayenne pepper

Preparation:

Keep popcorn, noodles and peanuts warm. Combine and mix well the peanut oil with soy sauce, five-spice powder, garlic powder, salt, ground ginger, sugar and pepper. Slowly pour over popcorn mixture, tossing to blend. Pour into a large roasting pan. Heat in a 300-degree oven for five to 10 minutes, stirring once.

Yield: 2-1/2 qts.

Beach Party Popcorn

Ingredients:

1/3 cup melted butter
1 tsp. soy sauce
2 drops hot sauce
2 qts. popped popcorn
2 cups seasoned assorted snacks
half-package (0.56-oz.) bacon-onion dip mix

Preparation:

Add soy sauce and hot sauce to butter. Put popped corn and assorted snacks in a large bowl. Pour butter mixture over all and toss. Sprinkle with dip mix and toss again. Spread on a jellyroll pan and bake at 350 degrees for eight to 10 minutes, stirring once.

Yield: 2-1/2 qts.

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