Though popcorn gets a bad rap, it’s actually a healthy snack when cooked the right way. Still, healthy popcorn doesn’t get the same amount of attention as microwave popcorn because it’s less convenient. Why would you dirty up a pan when you could just pop a ready-made bag into the microwave? Fortunately, there’s a simple hack to solve the problem: using a brown paper bag.
It’s true – a brown paper bag works just as well as a store-bought, microwave bag. Of course, I had to test this trick out for myself. I used a standard, brown paper lunch bag in an eight-pound size and poured in half a cup of popcorn kernels. I decided to skip any seasonings or oil, just as Bless This Mess suggested, and folded the top of the bag twice. Then, I turned the bag on its side and shook it a little to evenly distribute the kernels. I placed it in the microwave on high for three minutes and waited anxiously for something to happen.
After about a minute, the sound of popping kernels filled the kitchen. It made quite a racket, just like any store-bought bag! I kept the popcorn in the microwave until about two minutes and 50 seconds had passed, which is when the popping subsided. When I opened the microwave, I had a bag filled to the brim with perfectly-cooked popcorn. Not a single burned piece in sight.
From there, it was easy to mix in a little salt and pepper. I couldn’t help but think about other seasonings, and soon the possibilities seemed endless. One tablespoon of fortified nutritional yeast would add a tasty, cheese-like flavor, protein, and plenty of B vitamins. A ranch-style seasoning of onion powder, dried dill weed, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper would add a healthy dose of flavonoids, or plant chemicals with antioxidant properties.
If you’d like to get creative with your spice combinations, just remember to add a little oil to the mix to help your seasonings stick to the popcorn. One to two tablespoons for each brown paper bag should do the trick!
The Dangers of Store-Bought Microwave Popcorn
By using a humble paper bag to create fresh popcorn, you’ll avoid the high calories and fat content that come with traditional microwave popcorn brands. One cup of a popular buttered popcorn brand, for instance, contains 170 calories, 12 grams of fat, and six grams of saturated fat. In contrast, plain old-fashioned kernels contain no added ingredients – not even salt! This keeps your sodium levels in check and gives you full control over any seasonings you want to try.
Cooking your own healthy popcorn will not only give you a chance to flex your flavor skills, but also help you avoid potentially harmful chemicals. As noted in a 2013 article from the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal, microwave popcorn manufacturers use chemicals called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in their bags. You may recognize PFOA as the chemical that once created the Teflon® nonstick coating.
According to the American Cancer Society, studies have shown a potential link between PFOA and certain cancers. Though many popcorn manufacturers stopped using PFOA in 2013, an investigation published in Food Additives and Contaminants in 2019 showed that some microwave popcorn brands still use PFOA. Certain brands kept the chemical amount below a designated safe limit, while others continued to use unsafe amounts.
Fortunately, many healthy popcorn brands advertise that they are PFOA-free on the box, so you don’t have to do extensive research into the healthiest brands on the market. If you want to avoid the issue entirely, just use the paper bag trick. You won’t believe how easy it is!