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Popcorn is a godsend for health-conscious individuals who are craving something crunchy and salty. Cooked properly, popcorn (a whole grain) can be a tasty, low-calorie, low-fat snack.
However, bagged, microwaveable popcorn isn't always the best choice. Some brands are too high in fat, and the “light” varieties are often loaded with strange chemicals or just don't taste good. Read on to learn how to make healthy popcorn from whole kernels.
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Using Whole Kernels
Whole kernels are the best choice for popcorn. Bulk popcorn is far less expensive than microwave popcorn, contains no unpronounceable ingredients, and allows the cook to control the amount of fat and salt in the final product.
For popping healthy popcorn, an air popper is best. However, those who don't own an air-popper (or who don't want to clutter the counter-top with a device that only performs one function) can make popcorn on the stove.
To make popcorn on the stove, add enough canola oil to a lipped saucepan to just cover the bottom (don't worry about the amount of oil used here; most of it stays in the pan, and what does get onto the popcorn contains healthy Omega-3 fats). Add enough popcorn to make one layer on the bottom of the pan.Cover the pan with a lid and put over medium-high heat, shaking the pan constantly. The popcorn is done when there are 1-2 seconds between pops. Add whatever additions are desired, and serve immediately.
Another option for covering the pan is to use crimped aluminum foil. This decreases the likelihood of burning, since the popcorn has more room to expand. Tear off a square of aluminum foil that's about twice as wide as the saucepan. Crimp the edges of the aluminum foil around the lip of the saucepan, so that there's an aluminum "bump" in the middle of the saucepan. Then, pierce the foil several times with a knife, a fork, or a skewer (those who remember "jiffypop" will recognize this, and it works the same way).
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Skip the Butter
Butter is a traditional topping for popcorn, and while it's a better choice than margarines that contain trans-fats (MayoClinic,2009), it is high in fat and isn't really necessary. Freshly-popped popcorn has a deep grain flavor that requires little more than a bit of salt (Popoff, 2009). Many people are surprised how good the natural flavor of popcorn tastes when it has not been smothered in fat.
For those concerned about sodium intake, there are other options for flavoring popcorn. Nutritional yeast flakes (available in most health food stores) adds a cheesy taste. Herb blends or powdered dressing mixes are other good options.
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For Further Reading
Want more information about how to make healthy popcorn? Check out these links:
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MayoClinic Straff. (2009, 7 May). Transfat is Double Trouble for Your Health. The Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 29 May, 2010 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/trans-fat/cl00032
Popoff, D. (Producer). (2009, 11 October). Good Eats: Pop Culture. [Television Broadcast]. Atlanta: Bee Squared Productions.