Puffed-up goodness

Test Kitchen


Have you visited the microwave-popcorn aisle lately? Whew. Each brand offers myriad flavors and sizes amid gaudy and often confusing packaging.

It took a while to winnow down our tasting options between the "Extra Butter!" flavor, the "Extra Extra Butter!" flavor and the "So Much Extra Butter You Can't Taste the Popcorn!" flavor.

Popped plain, popcorn is a terrific snack. It's a whole grain loaded with nutritious fiber. So we chose popcorn that went easy on the butter and fat, and was missing something: trans fat. Trans fat, created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation, is linked to raising levels of LDL, or bad, cholesterol that increases risk for chronic heart disease while lowering levels of HDL, or good, cholesterol. The Food and Drug Administration now requires food companies to include trans-fat content on their Nutrition Facts labels.

We tasted six brands, each sold in boxes of three 3-ounce bags. Pay attention to their labels: Some base the numbers on two servings, others on three servings. We wanted popcorn with a fresh, fluffy texture and nice, buttery flavor.

And the winners are ...

1. Act II 94% Fat Free Butter. (7.1 points. Three 3-ounce bags, $1.79; 60 cents per bag.) "Good corn flavor." "Nice blend of crunchy and chewy texture." "Quite bland."

2. Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! 94% Fat Free Butter. (5.9 points. Three 3-ounce bags, $2.99; $1 per bag.) "Good popcorn flavor." "Good texture; excellent crunch." "Bland!"

2. (tie) Newman's Own organic Pop's Corn Light Butter. (5.9 points. Three 3-ounce bags, $2.99; $1 per bag.) "Very natural flavor. Salt level is perfect." "Attractive white kernels." "A bit tough."

Also tasted

3. Jolly Time Healthy Pop 94% Fat Free Butter (5.5 points).

4. Smart Balance Light Butter (5.2 points).

5. Pop Secret 94% Fat Free Butter (4.6 points).

Renee Enna writes for the Chicago Tribune.

Perfecting the pops

Pop Weaver offers tips for making perfect microwave popcorn:

Preheat your microwave oven by placing a cup of water inside the oven and heating it for one minute. Then carefully remove the cup of hot water.

After placing the popcorn bag in the microwave, set the microwave (full power) for five minutes and listen carefully.

Stop the microwave oven when rapid popping slows to 2 to 3 seconds between pops.

Don't leave the microwave unattended while popping the corn. It is important to watch the bag to make sure it inflates properly while the popcorn is popping. A bag that has not inflated properly will scorch very quickly.

Make sure the microwave oven is clean. A dirty oven may be less efficient.

Don't start and stop the microwave while popping. It's better to start out at a higher period of time and remove the popcorn when the rapid popping slows.

If your microwave has a carousel, make sure the bag can rotate freely.

If popcorn isn't popping well in your microwave, try raising the popcorn off the oven floor by placing an inverted glass pie plate under the popcorn. Do not use plastic or paper; it can melt or scorch.


New Orleans Cajun Corn

Makes 12 cups

12 cups popped Act IIM-. Microwave Popcorn, butter flavor (about 3 bags)

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon seasoned or lemon pepper

In a small bowl, place 1 quart of hot, popped popcorn and set aside. In a large bowl, pour the butter over the remaining popcorn. Combine the remaining ingredients and sprinkle them over the buttered, popped corn, tossing gently to coat.

Spread on a 15-inch-by-10-inch baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 3 minutes, or until desired crispness. Mix in the reserved popcorn. Serve immediately or store.


Per serving: (based on 12 servings) 95 calories, 1 gram protein, 7 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 7 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 86 milligrams sodium

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