Microwave Popcorn

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Search for kernels of truth leads to overall sense of dissatisfaction

It used to be so simple. There was a jar of kernels, a little oil, and a pot with a cover. Shake vigorously over a burner, add a little melted butter, a sprinkle of salt, and you had something wonderful.

Then came the air popper, which blew dry popped corn into a bowl – or all over the floor. The hot air on top allowed you to melt butter as the machine did its magic.

Microwave popcorn changed everything. Enclosed in a flat paper bag are kernels, flavorings, and spices. But go shopping for microwave popcorn and your head spins: Butter, light butter, butter flavor, real butter, and much more.
With the holidays coming and families set to gather around to watch DVDs and eat big bowls of snacks, we decided to test light butter-flavor popcorn. Then real confusion settled in. Serving sizes are anywhere from 3 to 6 cups, nutrition facts are difficult to navigate, even the smell of the bags varied. Some had no odor, one had the aroma of “chemical butter,” as one of the eight participants put it, some whiffed of oil and one smelled just plain bad.

We used a microwave that had a popcorn setting (technology!) at 2 minutes and 5 seconds (perfect kernels) and when the bell went off the digital read-out said “Enjoy!” Participants sipped club soda as a palate cleanser. The winner was Pop Secret, which is made with some real butter. “Just when I was about to give up, this one has at least a bit of flavor,” wrote one muncher. The runner-up was Jolly Time, described as “nicely, lightly salted but not bland.” The hands-down loser was Newman’s Own, which elicited the most vicious comments. One taster decided to go looking for an old-fashioned pot with a tight-fitting lid.

Jolly Time Healthy Pop Butter Flavor 94% Fat Free Microwave Popcorn
$2.19 for three 3-ounce bags

“Not much butter. Light and crisp.” “I’m despairing; maybe lite popcorn shouldn’t be eaten … better use would be for packing material.” “Is this cardboard? Gets stuck in my teeth.” “No flavor at all, puffed cardboard.” “Tastes like rubber.”

Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn Light Butter
$2.49 for three 2.9-ounce bags

“Buttery, crisp, but still rather boring.” “Salty and buttery. Too artificial.” “Reminiscent of movie theater, but the butter is slightly bitter.” “Hardly any smell … where’s the butter?” “No taste, no salt, no flavor – why bother?”

Non-Hydrogenated Smart Balance Light Butter Flavor Deluxe Microwave Popcorn
$2.69 for three 3-ounce bags

“OK … no doubt this IS packing material … right?” “Best if eaten while chatting so you don’t notice the taste.” “Hard to chew.” “Coats the mouth in an undesirable film; swallowing repeatedly doesn’t solve the problem.” “Buttery and moist.” “Bad feeling in mouth after chewing, kind of oily.” “Crisp, light, very buttery.”

Premium Popcorn Pop Secret Light Butter Winner
$2.29 for three 3-ounce packages

“Not really buttery but the topping still coats the roof of your mouth. It’s not awful.” “Strong `butter’ flavor, recedes to artificial taste. Think popcorn jelly beans.” “Dry and delicious.” “Like movie popcorn. Hard to believe it’s light … question is what are they putting in it to make it taste good?” “Tastes like real butter. None of the cardboard aftertaste. Yummy.”

Roche Bros. Microwave Popcorn Butter Light
$1.50 for three 3-ounce bags

“Good but a little flat.” “Slight buttery flavor, somewhat dry in texture … but that’s a good thing.” “Light, flat. Clear popcorn flavor.” “Smells like movie popcorn but the taste doesn’t deliver.” “Light and fluffy like a cotton ball. I like it. I can’t believe it’s light.”

All Natural Newman’s Own Old Style Picture Show Microwave Popcorn Light Butter Flavor
$2.49 for three 3.5-ounce packages

“Disgusting. What is this flavor? Chemicals, I think.” “Decent, tasty … a bit industrial tasting.” “Boring.” “Stale aftertaste – very unpleasant.” “This one tastes weird.” “Funny taste, good texture.”

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