WHY POPCORN SOMETIMES DOESN’T POP!

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First of all, I realize there are all of 14 people in the world that grow their own popcorn. Me, Orville Redenbacher and and all of his descendants.  In fact a post on growing your own popcorn is the sort of thing I might have laughed at just a couple of years ago.  Grow your own popcorn.  As IF.

And then I grew my own corn which I thought was edible corn but was only decorative corn BUT could be used as popcorn.  And here we are.  A post on how to pop your own home grown popcorn. Don’t worry, this also applies to all of you who have ever bought one of those whole cobs of corn for popping because most of the time they don’t pop either.

As it turns out, as is often the case with things that seem too easy, popping your own homegrown popcorn isn’t just a matter of growing corn and popping the dried kernels.

 

colored-popping-corn

I know this because once my ears of corn were dry, some time after Halloween, I tried popping them.  I just rubbed the kernels off of the cobs into a bowl and gave it a shot.

colored-popcorn

The kernels looked dry and seemed like popcorn.  First I tried them in oil on the stove in a pot. The kernels didn’t pop, they just burned and looked like little blackened molars.  Like someone from A&E’s Intervention shook their head over my pot and their teeth fell out into it.

Then I tried my trusty microwave method.  One kernel popped.  Popped is a bit of an exaggeration. One kernel split open and kind of stuck out a teeny, tiny, popcorn tongue.  That was it.

That’s when the research began.

As it turns out popping corn needs to be at a very specific moisture content to pop properly.  It *can* pop when it’s at 10% moisture content, but it pops its best at 14% moisture content.  All you have to do is figure out what the moisture content of your popcorn is.

Enter the most detailed, scientific, mathematic article about making popping corn ever written, courtesy of Mother Earth News. The article gave me detailed instructions on how to figure out the moisture content of my Glass Gem Corn by grinding it up, weighing it and then baking it in the oven for a couple of hours to bake out any moisture in it.  Then of course, you weigh it again and the difference between the pre-baked corn and the post-baked corn will tell you how much moisture you lost (and therefore how much moisture was in the corn to begin with).

 

grind-popcorn

So I did that and discovered my corn was about 4% moisture.  Something not even close to being poppable.  The solution is to then add enough water to the corn to bring it up to 14% moisture. The article included a handy math equation to make figuring out exactly how much water to add easy.

So I added the amount of water I needed to my popcorn and waited a day for it to absorb.

Then I tried popping it again and 2 kernels popped!  So basically a total success if you’re only planning on popping corn for 14 Ladybugs and an imaginary rabbit.

Obviously there wasn’t enough moisture still. So, now getting fed up, I dumped a total random amount of water into the jar of popcorn and opened a bag of delicious potato chips.  I put the popcorn in the cupboard and left it for a few days.

 

corn-growing

I’d say those kernels are plenty moist enough now.

 

corn-sprouts

I’m almost positive if I had a little more background in marketing I could totally sell Whole Foods on poppable corn sprouts.

Upon seeing these my immediate thought was, so …. if I don’t digest a hunk of popcorn and it sits in my watery stomach for a few days will it root, embed itself into my nutrient rich belly lining and grow a stalk of corn which will eventually shoot out of my mouth as I sleep one night?

Or no?  Will that maybe not happen.

Probably no.  I’ll tell you another thing that isn’t going to happen.  I’m not going to be popping my own popcorn again.  I’ll do like sane people do.  I’ll find the popcorn kernels at the store and then I’ll take one giant step to the right and buy a bag of chips.

 


 

68 Comments

  1. Dana says:

    My teen daughter always wants to grow corn in our little garden. Once we even grew 5 edible ears. Last summer we grew Pink Popcorn from West Coast Seeds– and we got about 10 ears. We dried them, and tested a few kernels in the hot air popper every few weeks, and it worked! They are delish, and we plan to grow them again this year.

  2. Kat says:

    Whoa I had no idea dried popcorn could root and sprout like that. This has been one hell of a post Karen. The final photo just simply amazed me. I am going to scroll back up and look at it for awhile. Way to go!!!

    • chris says:

      After building a cornhole set a few years back, my hubs and I were left with a shit-ton of feed corn. So we started feeding the outside critters. We now have regulars (squirrels, a chipmunk we call Pouches and a racoon called Spooky who will come and take food out of our hands) and occasional visitors (rabbits, possum and skunks). The squirrels alternate between eating and burying the kernels. They never seem to remember where they’ve buried them though, so we always have little corn plants growing randomly in our yard.

      • Ptolemy says:

        But when you stop feeding them, they or some of then will probably die. It’s very bad to cause wildlife to become dependent on you.

        • Mike says:

          No they will not! Animals are’nt stupid. They will go were there is food and if they can’t find it in one place they will go to the next, not lay down and die.

        • chris says:

          We’ve actually never stopped feeding them. When the original batch of corn FINALLY ran out, we bought a new bag. And so on. It’s been over 5 years since we started. And our toddler loves watching the “quirrels” so I doubt we’ll be stopping anytime soon.

  3. Ken says:

    Strawberry Popcorn works WAY more often than the rest. Pick it when it is ready, and freeze it or let it sit somewhere the mice won’t get into it.
    A large part of popcorn success is starch/gluten balance. Too much gluten or an overly large germ means the starch isn’t present in sufficient amounts to get that oh so satisfying BAM of the first one to activate and startle you.
    Make cornmeal or soak and stew the rest, seeing as how it refuses to perform. I kept Country Gentleman (Shoepeg) in the cellar (not basement) as far from the furnace as I could get it, and some popped the first year. Since, not so much. I picked it around 16%.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ken! Interesting! This corn is actually meant for popping though. Plus I really did a very extensive moisture test. I think what happened was I just let it dry out wayyyy too long before attempting to pop it. Like .. way, WAY too long, lol. I probably will try it again next year because I won’t be able to help myself. I’ve saved a pile of the seeds. (Which I’m sure if I tried popping right now would blow up like a champ) ~ karen!

  4. Kelly says:

    Mother Nature is indomitable! Look at those wee buggers grow! They had no idea they were *supposed* to just soak up water, explode conveniently and end their days as a tasty snack smothered in butter and salt. The nerve!
    Such a fun post Karen, thanks!

  5. Dagmar says:

    It sounds rather good. I bet when it pops it shows up in different colors too. Now that’s some fun stuff there. I can’t grow anything 🙁 . It’s so sad. Even my fake plants died because I fake forgot to water them, poor dears. As for the popcorn. The closest thing that I have ever had to these,are the food colored kernels that are availalable at the bulk food store. Yours sound more yummy.

  6. tiffany says:

    knew I should have waited for morning before I read this one. Laughing so hard I may need to change the bed. You did it again Karen, made me laugh out loud when there is nothing in my life to laugh about at the moment. Thanks, I really needed that.

    • Karen says:

      Don’t fool yourself Tiffany. There’s always something to laugh about! And if there isn’t … you might need some pills to help balance you out. (no seriously … Bell Let’s Talk week is coming up soon!) Mind you, this post was O.K. but not my funniest so if it made you laugh you’re probably in pretty good shape. 😉 ~ karen!

  7. Grammy says:

    Please don’t take this wrong — it’s not bragging — but I grew popcorn with my little grandson last year and when it seemed dry enough to rub it off the cob I just put some in a pan on the stove with a little oil and it popped just fine. Then I put a couple of cobs in a brown paper bag in the microwave and most of those kernels popped. Nothing scientific, just luck.

    But several weeks later, when I popped some more on the stove, most popped but they seemed noticeably small. I looked around the Internet and found out about the moisture content, but I was too lazy to do anything precise, so I just dumped some kernels in a little dish and covered them with water. A couple hours later I drained the water and popped the corn in oil on the stove. Everything popped fine.

    Maybe it’s just some varieties are better at popping than others, and your beautiful glass gem kernels can’t be expected to be everything anyone wants in a kernel of corn. Check seed catalogs for corn that is supposed to pop, and see if that gets better results. Or, do as you mentioned, buy popcorn and stick to growing things like your fabulous carrots and beets and potatoes that are the envy of several continents.

    I do expect to see corn sprouts turn up in Whole Foods now, though. You should make sure you’re compensated properly when they hit it big.

    • Karen says:

      Yes, YES some varieties ARE better at popping than others Miss Braggy Pantaloons. And Glass Gem is one of them! I’m just a failure. Whatever. Who Cares. I have abnormally stubby thumbs so there’s that to brag about I suppose. ~ karen!

      • Grammy says:

        If I had legs like yours, I wouldn’t have to run around in baggy pantaloons! I’m pretty sure nobody’s lookin’ at your thumbs, Sweetie. If I asked a thousand people, “What do you think of when you think about Karen?” I’m quite sure there would not be a single one who answers, “She’s a stubby-thumbed failure at popping corn.” Not one.

  8. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    If you get a fever…maybe those kernels inside your tummy will get hot and thus pop out of your mouth every time you open it….What?…according to my calculations it could happen..Please take photos if it does…

    • Karen says:

      That would be the best day of all our lives if it happened AND I was able to get photos. ~ karen!

      • Jan in Waterdown says:

        Hmmmm . . . maybe the next time you get the hiccups?? Now THAT would be freekin’ brilliant . . . video could go viral and we’d get to nod knowingly and say, smugly “know her” when it appears on the news.

  9. Blyma says:

    You are truly hilarious. Much appreciated.

  10. Mark says:

    I guess the downside of that baking/grinding method of testing the moisture content is that it doesn’t pop nearly as well afterwards… 🙂

  11. Aline says:

    I have grown popping corn. i free them as soon as I get them off the cob. and most do pop.

  12. Aline says:

    I meant FREEZE.

    • Karen says:

      FREEZE?! Now that’s interesting. Remind me in about 8 months. ~ karen!

      • Safetydog says:

        We keep our jar of Orville’s popcorn in the freezer, to maintain moisture. So maybe it would benefit your future Glass Gem kernels.

      • Kitten Caboodle says:

        Hmm. If the intent is to retain moisture, I would think freezing would have the opposite effect, no?

        • Marti says:

          I actually know a tiny bit about this. (As opposed to when I “pop off” without any actual knowledge to impart.)

          My Dad, who was both an avid farmer and successfully grew all his own popcorn as well as a professor of Food Science & Nutrition told me that about the only thing Mr. Orville does properly is to put his corn in a jar because it keeps the moisture content at the proper level. Dad suggested keeping it in the freezer, as opposed to the cupboard, because the temperature difference between frozen-cold-kernels and the hot oil will help them pop bigger, better and faster, as well.

          PLUS… and this is key: too much moisture in the kernels can cause the development of carcinogens.

          And Karen, all of Dad’s corn popped. Every year. Every time. Try the pot with some hot oil. You can do this. It ain’t that tough.

          Of course, I’m the daughter who bought five tomato plants that produced four actual tomato fruits.

  13. Sherry in Alaska says:

    My first reaction was: Oh my, Karen gave up on something?! But I think this is a great illustration of: Enough is enough… Enough effort, enough research, enough frustration. Time to move on to something more worthy of the exertions of a genius. There is a time to take the reasonable route and this was it! Good for you!

  14. Kathy says:

    Not usually up late but before I go to sleep I’ll give thanks for Orville. I would never suspect corn for popping would be so complex. I love that you will see it through come hell or high water. “and their teeth fell in the pot” gotta say it is pretty corn.

  15. Jan says:

    A real good laugh! and I was trying to get sleepy! The chips will win every time with me. Wish there was something to be done with that pretty jar of sprouts.

  16. Kathleen says:

    Oh you certainly outdid yourself here…
    You actually went to ALLLLLLL that trouble to check the moisture content? Seriously? One curious, crazy lady! 🙂
    And then when I saw the sprouting seeds… my first thought was… yes, you got it… I wonder if they would do that in your stomach. And then I remembered an incident not so long ago, when my darling 3 year old granddaughter shoved a popcorn kernel up her nostril! (Don’t ask!)
    And then it sank in… you RUINED those beautiful gem corn cobs! I am not sure I can forgive you for that. 😉

    Have yourself an awesome day, Karen.

  17. Auntiepatch says:

    The darn squirrels pull the corn out of the bird seed and bury it in with my tomato plants. Then they cover it up and wait for their very own crop of corn to come up. I now use corn stalks to keep my tomatoes upright. Win-win for everyone!

  18. I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I grew Glass Gem a couple of years ago and it popped for me. Best flavored popcorn I’ve ever had. Oh, and hey… Baggy pantaloons are haute couture these days.

    • Karen says:

      Braggy Bragger. I still have a big jar for planting and I’m getting close to trying to pop it, lol. ~ karen!

      • TucsonPatty says:

        When my sat-in-the-pantry-too-long-cheaper-than-Orville (which ALWAYS pops completely for me) doesn’t pop completely for me, I put just a few drops (maybe 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon) of water into the glass jar of popcorn, screw the lid on tight and then keep it in the fridge until I’ve popped it all. Works every time. I think the trick is just a few drops and keep it refrigerated until finished with it. Wonder what Orville grows?

  19. Marna says:

    Oh no, so sad, all that work growing it. I grew some corn to pop, it just didn’t grow very tall, the ears were small, but they popped. I thought it was a waste of time of water, but it was fun to try. We have fairly high humidity, so that probably helped with the popping. My sons were so excited. I loved gardening with them (they are all grown up now). I too have squirrels that bury seeds and I have to pull out the tiny corn plants, etc. Unfortunately they plant acorns and pecans the most. You do so many things, things that many of us envy, so who cares about the rest! 🙂

  20. Stacy says:

    “I’m almost positive if I had a little more background in marketing I could totally sell Whole Foods on poppable corn sprouts.” is probably the truest sentence I’ve read in a year!
    There is a rooftop greenhouse here in Montreal. I have bought sweet corn shoots from them. They were great. If you can manage to get those sprouts out of the jar, it might be worth trying, similar to your alfalfa project!

  21. mbaker says:

    I appreciate that you don’t just shelve ideas that don’t work. You let us know so that we can have a laugh and then use our time on other ventures.

  22. Mary W says:

    I bought the Glass Gems and have the package here ready to begin. DON’T tell me they won’t pop and decorating is the only thing they are good for? A& E teeth falling out – too funny! I buy popping corn from the store and it won’t pop. Living in Florida you would think it would pop on the stalk with our moisture and heat but not from the store. Orville is a genius and I want to pay homage to him and his relatives. I sure did want to plant my corn kernels instead of glue them to an art journal page. This gives proof that pretty things are only pretty on the outside and it’s what’s inside that counts – except of course, you. Pretty, smart, and DIY extra-ordinaire!

    • Karen says:

      I’d give it a shot Mary W. I think I just left them on the cob too long and they dried out a LOT. If you take them off at the right time and get them in an airtight container (so they maintain moisture) they’ll be fine. Don’t fret. Not yet. ~ karen!

  23. Erin says:

    I bet the chickens would be all over those sprouted grains!
    Chips rock.

  24. Karen says:

    I cannot believe you did a before and after moisture weight comparison test of corn kernels!
    Is it getting close to tax season? Cause I see right through your so called testing there girl. Lol.

  25. jainegayer says:

    I took the protective “skin” off my keyboard last night to wash it. Opened up your blog this morning while sipping my coffee and thought to myself, “I should go get that “skin” so I don’t get nose coffee all over my keyboard ( I mean, it is Karen I’m reading). But NOooooooo, I was too lazy to get it and NOW, after the hilarious vision of you growing a corn stalk in your belly, I laughed so hard coffee came out of my nose. Note to self… Never, ever, ever open up Karen’s blog without keyboard protection.

    • Karen says:

      Sorry ’bout that. I’ll look into becoming a much more serious version of myself in the future. Maybe someone who wears a monocle for instance. Monocles are never humourous. ~ karen!

      • jainegayer says:

        No, don’t change. The visions and laughs you generate are worth a few sticky keys. Did you say a monocle? See there you go again, totally hilarious!

  26. Linda in Illinois says:

    Karen, every time I see your posts, I smile all day long, Love the photos of the corn, I worked at Funks Seeds for 9 years (my favorite all time job) and we grew all kinds corn, beans, etc. in the research fields. One thing I didn’t catch you speaking of in your post was that the smell of those wet fermenting kernels, is a killer. It is not to be reckoned with, it will gag you sure as sh*t. Even thinking about it makes me gag, ha. I have to go vomit now. Love you !

  27. Ev Wilcox says:

    Someone gave me three very small ears of Glass Gems last fall. I hung them in the kitchen as a decoration. Also bought more seeds on ebay. I hope to grow pretty corns this year for decorations to hang/give away. I will continue buying popping corn for my addict spouse though. He is currently liking white corn, which is a little bit hard to find. Thanks for yet another funny and informative post Karen! And, I will leave you to do all the adventurous sciency stuff!

  28. Eileen says:

    wow…I can’t (even) pop microwave corn. The outer layer pops and the middle turns into a charred gnurl. (that’s a technical term)

  29. Michelle says:

    Was catching up on your last post then read this one. Two completely different posts here. This one illustrates best the sad fact you will never semi retire. It cancels out all the tounge and cheek talk of slowing down. I was so hopeful last post. If she slows down I will not feel so horribly lazy and inferior. Well this post just popped that sad bubble. Ha ha. I am inferior and lazy. Just the thought of the grinding, baking and calculating moisture made me anxious. Like tax season anxiety. Ok I will live with the reality you are Martha Stewart on crack and I could never live up to those standards. This year I am adding a master bath to my house not redoing… Lol adding one. So I am looking forward to your bath posts. Thanks for being perfectly you!

    • Karen says:

      Uch. That’s another thing I’d love. A Master Bath. Any second bath actually. But it would take an addition to get one and many, many dollars. It’ll get done at some point just not the near future. So …. having said that … you’ll have to keep me updated on how yours goes! ~ karen

  30. jillian says:

    I grew Black Dakota Popcorn, let it dry on the stalk and then tried to pop it but it only burned. So I shelled all of it and put it in my dehydrator at a low temperature for 8-10 hours, let it cool and it popped perfectly. I stored it in a glass container and tried to not eat it. Well, that did not last long! lol It was the best popcorn I ever had.
    I only planted a few rows later than usual so did not get a big harvest. Next year I will plant way more.

  31. Jack Ledger says:

    For the first time in many years, an old man living in a rural town decided to go to the city to see a movie. After purchasing his ticket, he stopped by the concession stand to buy some popcorn. Handing the attendant $1.75, he couldn’t resist commenting, “The last time I came to the movies, popcorn only cost 15 cents.”
    “Well, sir,” replied the attendant with a grin, “you’re really going to enjoy yourself. We have sound now!”

    source: http://www.jokebuddha.com/Popcorn#ixzz3wUU1UNSA

  32. Vanessa says:

    The last time I popped corn I did it right on the cob. I wiped the cob down with a wet paper towel, didn’t dry it off, stuck the slightly damp cob in a paper bag, folded it and stuck it in the microwave for about 2 minutes. Worked about as well as store bought microwave popcorn and tasted waaaaaaaaay better! Something to maybe try for next year…

  33. cbblue says:

    If I were as beautiful as Glass Gem Corn I wouldn’t have to pop. Just sit there and look good. I do love your experimentation though Karen.

  34. My experience with corn is that if you really really want to see some raccoons, grow your own corn. It’s like magic. No raccoon in sight + ears of corn almost ready for picking = at least one family of raccoons by morning.

  35. Dale says:

    Living in Iowa, with cornfields from shore to shining shore, I believe you can check out a device from a local extension office or grain mill that measures the moisture content of your crop (in this case popcorn) by sampling a few ears before you harvest. Picking at the right moisture %, (14% or higher) then shelling it so the cob does not wick moisture from the kernels. Put them in old peanut butter jars to hold the moisture. Store in a cool, even temperature. (Right next to the wine bottles) Not sure about the freezing. It is not good to freeze your coffee beans, same for popcorn?
    http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/goldengategardener/article/Let-popcorn-husks-dry-completely-before-harvesting-2308377.php
    I did the Google thing and this article had good ideas.

  36. TucsonPatty says:

    Sorry, can’t help myself…this post just shows how beloved our popcorn is and how many different opinions and suggestions about it that there are out there in the world. I do love me some popcorn!

  37. Pam says:

    Why don’t you try making parched corn? I believe you need very dry corn kernels for parching. A quick google search turns up a recipe. I’ve had parched corn before and it’s very crunchy and kind of nutty in flavor.

  38. Patricia Polmanteer says:

    I thank you 100 times.. , nay a thousand times. I also grew the same pop corn and I also had the same sad results. BUT.. I did have a different initial result.. some did pop but very small and most did burn but the popped ones were wonderful. I and going to try again after “watering” some of the corn. Thank you for how to figure out the moisture in our corn.

  39. I had some popcorn that tasted stale when I popped it so I tossed the rest of the un-
    popped corn in my layered garden compost and to my surprise it grew and made great popcorn. The cobs were small but I got a nice bag of popcorn.No testing or water. Maybe I just got lucky. I always thought it was the variety of corn that was for popping not eating, different from eating corn. It was tasty.

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