I’m a salt-and-crunch kinda girl, through and through. I’d choose chips over chocolate as fast I’d pick pretzels over ice cream.
But popcorn, of course, takes the proverbial (non-sweet) cake. A standby for the past few years of triathlon training (and Breaking Bad/the Wire/Dexter/Mad Men/House of Cards marathons), I’ve finally found the time to share this beloved “recipe” with the world. You’ve heard me talk about it on numerous long rides and happy hours, but here it is in print form. Mark it in your diaries, people. Your lives are forever changed.
I discovered the magical Whirley Pop a few years ago while crashing with a friend on a road trip. I was hooked immediately, and just days later shelled out $15 for my own. To this day it’s probably my most-used appliance. Not my Vitamix (bad triathlete!) or my KitchenAid mixer. It’s been a long and fruitful relationship.
Lately, saturated fats have emerged from their hiding, and coconut oil is making its debut in the pages of health magazines and websites. Lauric acid, the predominant medium-chain triglyceride (a particular type of fatty acid), is its claim to fame. Unlike other dietary fats, MCT’s are absorbed directly into the blood, making them available for quick energy. A fat that performs more like a carb rather than being stored as fat? Yes.
Popcorn itself isn’t too shabby a food, either. This article calls it the “king of snack food,” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s a whole grain, minimally processed, and high in fiber—all characteristics with diverse health benefits. On the antioxidant front, this article cites a study that found the concentration of polyphenols in popcorn to surpassed those of most fruits. I don’t know much about polyphenols, but they’re apparently mighty good for long-term health. Apparently, ounce for ounce, popcorn also has more protein and phosphorus than potato chips, and more iron than eggs and spinach. Well then.
There’s no magical method to creating perfect popcorn. You don’t really even need a Whirley Pop, but I will say, it does add to the fun. I don’t usually even measure my coconut oil—which is solid at room temperature and liquid most days in the summer—but just eyeball approximately 2-3 tablespoons. I use this amount for 1/4 cup of unpopped kernels, or a one-person serving. If I’m popping for two, I use closer to 4 tablespoons and 1/2 cup of kernels.
Also, I’ve found that popcorn has a bit of a mind of its own. The consistency and taste of the finished product seems to vary with the humidity, type and amount of oil (you can use canola, avocado, or peanut as well, all high-heat oils), and the Whirley Pop’s mood. It’s all a bit of a mystery, but I’ve found that coconut oil produces the most consistently fluffy results. If Costco stops carrying this stuff ($20 a for a 5-pound tub), I don’t know what I’ll do.
Serves 1. Multiply the oil-to-kernel ratio for larger groups, being careful not to pop much more than 2/3 cup in the Whirley, or it might get jammed.
~2 Tbsp coconut oil, or other high-heat oil (I’ve even used bacon fat!)
1/4 cup popcorn kernels (pictured above are Whole Foods’ bulk multicolored kernels)
Spray coconut oil (Trader Joe’s has the best price) and salt to taste
Optional toppings: nutritional yeast (my absolute favorite, and which my friend calls, disdainfully, “hippie dust”), spirulina, cinnamon, spices,
- Add the oil and a few kernels to the Whirley Pop (or large stock pot with lid), and turn the heat to medium-high. Shake the kernels around to coat.
- When the test kernels pop, your oil is hot enough to commence popping. Dump the rest of the kernels into the pot, and lower the heat slightly (just above medium-high).
- Stir the Whirley Pop to get the kernels nice and coated in oil. If you’re using a regular pot, just shake the pot. At this point you can sit back and relax and wait for the popping to begin.
- When the kernels begin popping, give the Whirley Pop another few twirls. Or if you feel like it, do as my aforementioned “popcorn stance” friend does and twirl the whole way through. (You’ll burn an extra 20.5 calories through this method.)
- When the popping slows, remove the pot from heat. Divide into serving bowls.
- Spray the finished popcorn with spray coconut oil, and dust with your choice of toppings. When using nutritional yeast, I always grind mind into a finer powder with a mortar and pestle, otherwise the large flakes don’t stick to the popcorn as well). If you want true hippie popcorn, mix the nutritional yeast with spirulina powder for an extra hit of green goodness. Get creative with toppings!
Kettle Corn Variation: Add 1 Tbsp of sugar in with the oil and pop as per directions. Sprinkle with cinnamon and/or salt for a sweet-salty treat.