Food Science: How Popcorn Pops

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Morning, noon, or night, popcorn is definitely one of our all-time favorite snacks. It seems impossible that one tiny kernel can contain so much deliciousness!

In fact, how does popcorn work? Read on!

Popping corn is actually a completely different kind of corn that the sweet corn we find at the farmer's market or the feed corn given to livestock. In comparison to these two varieties, popcorn is higher in protein and has a tough outer hull with an equally hard endosperm (the layer just beneath the hull).

When heated, the protein and starch in the endosperm soften and begin to expand with steam. Because the hull is so tough, it's able to withstand greater pressure than other kinds of corn. This gives the endosperm more time to soften and also allows more moisture within the kernel to convert to steam, which results in a fluffier and crunchier popped corn.

When the hull does eventually break, the soft protein-starch mixture bursts out and quickly cools to popcorn's familiar crispiness.

So much deliciousness, one little kernel! How do you like your popcorn: plain or tossed with some kind of topping?

Related: Readers' Favorite Sounds of the Kitchen

(Image: Flickr member Darren Hester licensed under Creative Commons)