Why popcorn pops

Why popcorn pops
by Viliam Kanis

Have you ever wondered how those corn kernels turn into popcorn? Popcorn is a corn kernel converted through heat.

Corn is cleaned off the cob, stored and preserved. Each kernel has a little water or moisture locked inside of them. So when you start to heat the popcorn the pressure builds up inside the corn to the point where it has no where to go. The moisture inside the kernel converts into steam and the pressure increases exponentially. The pressure builds up and the starch starts to expand to the point where the kernel explodes. And through this explosion our tasty popcorn is born.

Large, tender and tasty popcorn is in demand. How do we guarantee our corn kernel produces these tasty treats? Unfortunately this is out of hands and the responsibility is squarely placed on the farmers.

Farmers that grow corn usually harvest their crop when the moisture content of the corn is approximately 16-20%. After harvesting the corn it must be dried so that it only contains 12-15% of water.

Not every corn pops. Different conr means different moisture content. Too little water results in no popcorn. It’s important to realize that popcorn is formed through the expansion of water into gas which results in a build up of pressure. The pressure needs to be released which subsequently gives birth to the tasty popcorn.

Plant Stuff

The anatomy of the corn kernel is quite simple. The corn kernel contains 3 main parts which play a significant role in the production of popcorn. The pericarp, which is the hull or simply the outer covering, the germ which is the part that sprouts and the endosperm which contains the starch that expands.

So how does the popcorn withstand the build up of pressure? As mentioned above, corn has a strong pericarp which is the outer covering. This strong, protective layer acts like a seal, just like a sealed plastic bag would inflate when micro waved. The steam within this cover builds up to the point where it expands and eventually explodes. Prior to heating or cooking, if the pericarp has been cut or damaged the steam will be vented resulting in no popcorn.

The expansion or popping of the corn takes place in the tightly packed endosperm. The greater development of the endosperm results in bigger and tastier popcorn. The shell of the corn explodes after the inner pressure exceeds about 9 athmospheres. The gelatinized starch granules found in the endosperm do not explode, but expand into the cooler room temperature and solidify into the thin, fluffy like bubbles that we call popcorn.

Different varieties of corn have been genetically engineered for the purpose of producing popcorn. The white hull-less and yellow hull-less are the most common and are usually packaged in the microwave bags. As soon as the kernel contains 10-15% of moisture it can be used to produce popcorn.

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