3 Ways to Make Popcorn That Won't Cause Lung Disease
I don't know about you, but I believe popcorn may be the world's most perfect snack. It's light, it's crunchy and chewy, and it's easy to eat without filling up, especially when I'm feeling peckish in front of Netflix—one of my biggest temptations.
And the best part is, it's generally healthy—high in fiber and low in calories, depending on how you make it. I'm a sodium hound, so I like to add a touch of soy sauce and then cover it with nutritional yeast, which has a rich, salt-and-butter-like flavor.
New Year. New Food. Healthy eating starts here, with the Cooking Light Diet.
But here's where I draw the line: I will not use bags of microwave popcorn. Ever since I learned, several years back, that the workers who make the stuff were suffering from major lung problems, I've veered away from it. In fact, the disease they have, called bronchiolitis obliterans, is informally known as “popcorn lung.”
When researchers published their study of the popcorn factory workers in the New England Journal of Medicine, they concluded that the disease was caused by "the inhalation of volatile butter-flavoring ingredients."
So when you grab that freshly-puffed bag of hot popcorn out of the microwave, pull the opposite corners to open it up, and stick your nose down in it to get a whiff of the warm, aerosolized flavorings wafting out of the bag, you aren't doing yourself or your lungs any favors.
Popcorn isn't that hard to make, it only needs to be heavily processed for convenience. You can make it more safely (and just about as easily) without the dangerous self-puff bags. And the best part: regular old popcorn is really inexpensive and lasts forever. Here are three ways to make it without damaging your lungs:
1. On the Stove
Sometimes the best ways are grandma's ways. All it takes is a touch of oil (olive works, but there are fancier oils you can try, to add flavor). My go-to method is to drop a kernel in a dry pot over medium high heat and wait for it to pop. Once it goes, then you pour in the oil to coat the pan, lightly cover the bottom in kernels, and toss the lid on. When the popping dies down (I wait until I can count to five between pops) you've got your popcorn! Toss it with something delicious, and enjoy.
2. In an Air Popper
If you're making popcorn regularly, it's well worth the $20 to invest in an air popper. They use no oil at all, so they're incredibly healthy, and they couldn't be easier to use. You put the kernels in the bottom, put a bowl in front of the spout, and turn it on. The popcorn pours out as soon as it's ready, and you don't have to worry about burnt kernels, or even paying that much attention.
3. In a Paper Bag in the Microwave
For those of you who a) don't have the fifteen minutes it takes to make stovetop popcorn (whether you're a parent with demanding kids, or just trying to make the darn stuff during a commercial break—no judgement) or b) don't make it often enough to warrant having a whole device just to do one thing (small apartment dwellers, raise your hands) this is the method for you.
Here's what you do: You get some brown paper bags (the kind you put kids' lunches in) and put 1/2 cup of popcorn, a pinch of salt, and just a touch of oil into it.
Then you need to fold the bag completely closed. Obviously, you can't staple it, but that paper-tab-tear stapling method you may remember from school will work. Serious Eats has a good demonstration on their site. Once it's closed, microwave as you normally would. It's a little touchy—so you'll have to watch it to make sure the kernels don't burn. And voila! Sit back down and enjoy the perfect snack.