What is Popcorn?

What is popcorn? This may seem like a leading question but have you ever thought about what kind of corn kernels are used in making popcorn and why it pops after being heated? Actually, popcorn is a kind of maize which is capable of bursting open because it has a kernel surrounded by a hard covering sealed by moisture. With its starchy, condensed interior, popcorn pops because pressure is created when this moisture is heated. Recently, researchers have created new hybrids of corn which are specifically cultivated to be used as popcorn.

Health Benefits of Popcorn

When eaten without any butter or salt added, popcorn provides a nutritional, low-fat snack, along with protein and traces of iron, thiamin and thiamine. Because it carries no sugar or sodium, it makes a perfect snack for those with dietary restrictions. Popcorn satisfies that need to crunch and chew on something, while not contributing to weight gain or sodium intake. Its high fiber content also adds to a feeling of fullness, which can help prevent overeating.

What is Popcorn?What is Popcorn?

How to Cook Popcorn

Whether you’re looking for “how to cook pop corn” or “how to cook popcorn,” probably the best popcorn cooking tips concern keeping the heat at a certain level and choosing the right kind of oil. Oil that has a high-smoking point like peanut or canola oil works well when cooking popcorn on a stove top. Pour enough oil to cover the bottom of the saucepan and add another teaspoon or two (this depends on how big the saucepan is). Once the oil is bubbling, throw in a couple of test kernels and wait for them to pop. Once you've established the oil is ready, pour in all of your kernels at once, cover the pan and begin swirling the pan around just above the heat so that the kernels do not become scorched.

NOTE:  FRAN’S WAY of MAKING POPPED CORN: I have read many ways and tips of making popped corn over many years. Here is how I do it: I put about 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the bottom of my large heavy pan over high heat.  Immediately, I add about ¾ cup of pop corn and lay the lid HALF WAY on the pan. When I hear the first kernel pop, I cover the pan totally with the lid. 

Wearing HOT MITS (My dishtowels have caught on fire before.) I lift the pan and begin rocking it back and forth, occasionally setting it back on the burner. When the “popping” almost stops, set the pan off the burner and remove the lid. OF COURSE, if for eating I add salt and plenty of good melted butter.

POPCORN WILL NOT POP: If your popcorn gets old, it might not pop. Soak the popcorn in water about 10 minutes before trying to pop. Drain the water off and lay it on paper towels to dry off all the water before putting in the oil to pop. 

What is Popcorn in the Microwave?

You can also pop popcorn in the microwave or buy pre-packaged popcorn in bags that you place in your microwave (right side up!) and simply push the "popcorn" button which most microwaves have as part of their cooking controls.

What is Popcorn Meant For Besides Eating?

Popped popcorn is also used in decorating, as packaging material and as a way to make people hungry (a favorite of merchants who sell food along with other merchandise). The reason why the smell of popcorn sets off hunger pangs is because popcorn consists of certain aroma chemicals such as tetrahydropyridine, 6-acetyl-2,3,4 and 5 and 2-acetyl-1-pyroline that exude a scent which is attractive for humans.

A Christmas tradition mainly held in the U.S. is making a decoration from stringing popped popcorn on a thread and draping it around the tree. In addition, popcorn is occasionally used a packing material because it is biodegradable and less expensive than the commonly used polystyrene. The problem with this is the popcorn smell also attracts insects, mice and other pests.

Popcorn Balls to Decorate the Christmas TreePopcorn Ball Hanging on the Christmas Tree
making popcorn ballsWhat is Popcorn Balls?

Popcorn Recipes

You can create some amazing snack dishes from popcorn which are great party favorites. Most popcorn recipes, such as caramel balls, are easy to make and do not require any cooking except for popping the corn itself. What is popcorn? It is an amazing grain that can make great treats!

How to Make Popcorn Balls

NOTE: This is very HOT; be careful and do not use any plastic. Have 5 quarts popped corn ready in large pan that has been buttered. Combine in buttered saucepan 2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup light corn syrup and 1 teaspoon vinegar. Stir to blend and bring to a boil, reduce heat and keep at rolling boil stirring occasionally until candy thermometer reaches 250F degrees.Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Immediately pour over popped corn and toss with metal or wood spoon to coat.popped corn. Butter hands and shape and press into balls.

Caramel Popcorn Balls

What is popcorn decorations? Popcorn balls is an old fashioned way to decorate Christmas trees. 

  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup margarine
  • 2 teaspoons cold water
  • 2 5/8 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup marshmallows
  • 5 quarts plain popped popcorn

Mix all ingredients together except the popped popcorn. After greasing your hands with butter or oil, mix the popcorn with the ingredients and shape into small balls. What is popcorn without some caramel glaze and marshmallows!


  • 10 cups popped corn
  • ½ Cup candy coated candies (Like M & M’s) OR mini gumdrops
  • 2 Cups miniature marshmallows
  • 3 Tablespoons butter

Butter 8 inch square pan.

Combine popcorn and candy in a large bowl.

Combine and melt marshmallows and butter in saucepan over low heat; stir until smooth.

Pour marshmallow mixture over popcorn mixture; butter hands and press into buttered pan.

Refrigerate until firm; cut into 16 bars.

POPCORN GRANOLA using microwave

  • 10 Cups popped corn
  • ½ Cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ Cup coconut
  • ½ Cup sunflower seeds
  • ½ Cup raisins
  • 1/3 Cup honey
  • 1/3 Cup butter
  • 1 Teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ Teaspoon vanilla

Grease 9X13 inch microwave dish.

Combine in a large bowl the popcorn, walnuts, coconut, sunflower seeds and raisins; set aside.

Place honey, butter, cinnamon and vanilla in microwave dish; microwave on high until butter melts.

Drizzle mixture over popcorn mixture; transfer to prepared pan.

Microwave on high 5 to 6 minutes or until raisins plump stirring halfway through cooking.

Spread on wax paper to cool.


What is popcorn when making easy recipes?

  • 15 Cups popped corn
  • ½ Cup butter PLUS
  • 1 Cup brown sugar
  • ¼ Cup corn syrup
  • ½ Teaspoon salt
  • ½ Teaspoon baking soda

Place popped corn in a large buttered roasting pan.

PREHEAT OVEN TO 200F degrees.

Combine in a large saucepan the sugar, butter, syrup and salt.

Stir mixture occasionally over medium heat until bubbly around edges.

Continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes; remove from heat.

Stir in the baking soda until foamy; pour over the popped corn stirring until coated.

Bake in oven for 1 hour stirring every 15 minutes; set out to cool.

NOTE: This is very crunchy and delicious caramel corn. FOR CLEANING PAN put water in pan and heat on stove top or in oven. Wash down sides while hot to remove syrup. Dump out water and wash. It cleans easier when still warm but BE CAREFUL not to get burned.


What is popcorn when seasoned with spices like chili powder? Great flavor!

  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 ½ Teaspoons chili powder
  • ½ Teaspoon salt
  • ½ Teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ Teaspoon paprika
  • 12 Cups popped corn

FIRST combine butter and next 4 ingredients in a saucepan.

Stir and heat over low until butter melts and mixture is well blended.

Let butter mixture set in warm place until popcorn is ready.

Pop corn and place in a large shallow container.

Pour butter mixture over warm popcorn stirring to coat.

NOTE: I like to double the butter mixture for the 12 cups of popcorn.


What is popcorn when seasoned with curry and Parmesan?

  • 12 Cups popped corn
  • ½ Cup melted butter
  • ½ Cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ Teaspoon salt
  • ¼ Teaspoon curry powder

Combine melted butter, Parmesan, salt and curry powder.
Pour over popped corn and toss popcorn well; makes 12 cups.