The Jawbreakers of the Popcorn Industry

By Sean Boyd

 

Problem

I’m sure almost everyone has had microwave popcorn. Well, anyone who has had the easy to make snack has also had a hard time with those blasted un-popped kernels. Well, this experiment is going to answer that age-old question. Which brand off popcorn yields the least amount of un-popped kernels?

 

Hypothesis

A lot of people have differing opinions on which popcorn has the least amount of un-popped kernels. Some think Orville Redenbacher, the expensive, “gourmet” popcorn to be the best popped kernel producer. Others may say the under-dog, the low priced, no-name brand (like Aldi Food Company’s “Corntown” brand) is the best. My hypothesis is that Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn will be the best in terms of un-popped kernels, and that Aldi’s “Corntown” Brand will be the worst in un-popped kernel amount.

 

Background Research

Popcorn is a type of maize which, unlike other types of corn, pops when heated in oil or dry. It was first found and used to pop by Native Americans thousands of years ago. The kind of popcorn most people pop in their microwaves is the species Zea mays L subsp mays. Popcorn was introduced to the West by Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century. As with other corns, popcorn has a certain amount of moisture inside itself. But, unlike other corns, popcorn has a stronger outer hull that doesn’t let moisture escape as fast as other corn when heated.

As the kernel is heated to the boiling point, water inside the kernel starts to turn into steam, causing pressure inside the kernel to about 9 times the pressure of air. Inside other types of corn - as well as damaged popcorn kernels - the steam escapes the kernel as fast as it is formed. The difference with popcorn is that the outer hull is strong enough to hold the steam in, until it ruptures in a small explosion and turns it inside out, to become the white fluffy stuff, better known as popcorn!

There are two explanations to why some kernels do not pop. One is that the popcorn kernel just doesn’t have enough moisture to turn to steam. The other explanation is the outer hull is leaky, and causes the steam to escape before it can become super pressurized and explode the outer hull. This could be caused by mishandling of the kernels at the factory, or maltreatment of the kernels during shipment. The question is which brand of popcorn handles the kernels the best at the factory and during shipping and uses only the best corn?

I’ve found websites that host information on experiments done by people doing the same thing I am. On one website http://www.mercer.edu/camps/message/summer2001/summer2001-popcorn.htm they concluded that Act II was the best popping popcorn. This website, though, didn’t tell how long they cooked each popcorn brand, and they popped each kernel individually. Another website http://www.k12.nf.ca/greenwood/virsci/Intermediate/popcorn/popcorn.htm said that the best popping popcorn was Orville Redenbacher. But, their experiment also took into account price and taste. My experiment is only focusing on kernels.

 

Materials

My materials will be as following:

3 bags of Aldi brand popcorn

3 bags of Act II brand popcorn

3 bags of Orville Redenbacher brand popcorn

3 bags of Jolly Time brand popcorn

3 bags of Pop-Secret brand popcorn

Microwave

Bowl

I’ll have three trials of each type of popcorn so I can average the amount of kernels and get the most conclusive results. I’m also going to use the original Butter flavor of each popcorn brand so that the results don’t change according to flavor.

 

Procedures

First I popped the popcorn in the microwave for 2 minutes and 15 seconds, the recommended time for popping popcorn.

After that, I counted the un-popped kernels and recorded the results in the data table.

I repeated steps 1 - 3 two more times for a total of 3 trails each for all 5 brands of popcorn.

Once all my results were in the data table, I averaged the 3 trials for each brand of popcorn.

 

Data Tables

Kind of popcorn

Number of un-popped kernels

Average amount of un-popped kernels

Jolly Time

28

19

52

33

Orville Redenbacher

51

45

28

41 ⅓

Act II

39

25

34

32 ⅔

Pop-Secret

54

57

55

55 ⅓

Aldi

56

80

70

68 ⅔

 

 

Quantitative Data Measurement Type: Kernels of un-popped popcorn

 

As you can see in this graph and in the Data Table, the best popcorn in terms of un-popped kernels, was Act II, with Jolly Time as a close second, followed by Orville Redenbacher, Pop-Secret and, the no-name brand, Aldi’s “Corntown” popcorn coming in last place.

 

Conclusion

I thought the best popcorn with the least amount of kernels would be Orville Redenbacher, but my hypothesis was incorrect. The best popping popcorn is shown to be Act II.

Additional Observations

Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn was the most expensive, and Aldi’s “Corntown” was the least expensive. Some results seemed to be inconclusive, and unconvincing. The Jolly Time popcorn had the lowest amount of un-popped kernels, until for some unknown reason it came up with 52 un-popped kernels. The Orville Redenbacher suddenly got 28 at the end, when at the beginning it was at a whopping 51 kernels. The most consistent brand was Pop-Secret. Several variables that might have affected the results, or tainted the results, might have been a variable amount of energy going to the microwave, therefore cooking it differently at different times and energies. Also, I might have missed some kernels that might have fallen out of the bowl, accidentally been eaten, or got stuck in the bag when I poured out the popcorn into the bowl we ate from. Over all, though (because I averaged the amount of kernels), I don’t think any other variables greatly affected the results.

So, next time you go out to buy popcorn, look for either Act II, or Jolly Time popcorn.

 

 

Bibliography/References

“Scientists Discover the Secret of Popcorn's Popability”, Robert Roy Britt, www.livescience.com

“Popcorn”, www.wikipedia.com

“Popcorn, a type of flint corn”, encarta.msn.com

“Which brand of popcorn pops the most?” http://www.mercer.edu/camps/message/summer2001/summer2001-popcorn.htm

“Which as the best "pop" for your buck”, http://www.k12.nf.ca/greenwood/virsci/Intermediate/popcorn/popcorn.htm

My mom

 

 

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