Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. How Long Does It Take to Make Microwave Popcorn?

 

Our boy scout troop is in the middle of popcorn selling season. In August, at the beginning of the sales season, I asked a simple question. “How long does it take to make microwave popcorn?”

They said three minutes or two minutes or even, “there’s a popcorn button on the microwave and it senses when you’re done, so whatever that is.”

They were way off. It takes thousands of years to get to that microwave popcorn. You just need to look beyond that button on the microwave.

The scouts seemed unimpressed, but I explained that they only see the time it takes to make the popcorn in the microwave. I wanted them to think beyond the immediate and understand the foundations upon which the popcorn pops. If you don’t ask questions and think and learn about the past, it could cost you.

It takes one growing season to grow the popcorn kernels that go into a bag. It takes another season before just to grow the seeds to plant to grow the corn that becomes popcorn. There’s all the work to make sure the crops are planted, fertilized, and watered. No one thinks about the work taken to harvest and combine the corn so that it’s ready to be graded and then dried to about 14% moisture from about 35% moisture.

Once dried, Popcorn kernels are mixed with cooking oil, seasonings, and natural or artificial flavorings in a sealed microwave-safe paper bag. The bag had to be specially designed with a metal patched weaved at the bottom of the bag so that it heats evenly and expands from flat to allow the popcorn to expand and let steam out as it pops. Microwave popcorn didn’t even get sold until the early 1980s.

Going even further back, it took someone, probably sitting around a campfire, to see that a particular type of corn would pop. Only the “Zae mays everta” variety of corn can be popped, but, over time, it’s expanded to about 100 different strains of this variety corn developed by people like Orville Redenbacher. The first evidence of popcorn dates to about 3500 years.

Corn was native only to the Americas. The Columbian Interchange brought corn, tomatoes, potatoes, and other crops to Europe, Asia, and Africa, while the Americas received citrus, apples, bananas, coffee, wheat and rice, among others to the Americas. This movement had a great impact on the reduction of hunger and famine as the expansion of food crops diversified.

As food sources became more plentiful and transportation of the crops moved longer distances, corn was sorted and graded for its different uses and sold in larger units. This began the development of commodities markets in places like Chicago. Technology for farming grew over time from human and horse-driven to tractors to GPS-programmed farm equipment where farmers can binge watch Netflix from their air-conditioned planters and combines. The growth of agricultural and transportation markets freed up more people from farming and allowed for the further development of technology and industry that allowed.

Coming out of all of this is the technology that led to cars and airplanes. As airplanes filled the skies, especially during war, you need to think about tracking them in the air. From that comes the development of radar. One day in 1945, a researcher at Raytheon was testing magnetrons, the high-powered vacuum tubes inside radars that produced microwaves, noticed that a peanut butter candy bar in his pocket was melting. He thought about it and started testing how the microwaves affected other foods, including popcorn in a sealed metal box. From this, Raytheon patented the “Radar Range”, the first microwave oven.

Microwave ovens only work if you have electricity. Ancient Greeks were the first to recognize static electricity in about 600 B.C. by rubbing fur against amber, but English physician William Gilbert used the Latin word “electricus” to describe the force that certain substances exert when rubbed against each other. Founding father Ben Franklin did early experiments with electricity. Alessandro Volta discovered that the chemical reactions that could produce electricity and built what he called a voltaic pile or an early electric battery. Within one century, as scientists were learning how to generate electricity, there was a competition between Edison and Tesla to determine if the country would be wired with alternating or direct current.

Over the last century and a quarter, the world has been wired and connected more closely than ever. And, like the scouts, we take it all for granted. If there’s ever an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that takes out the electric grid, we’re going to lose those microwave oven and TVs. We’re going to have to go back and learn things we’ve forgotten like knots, lashings, making a fire in wet conditions, farming, blacksmithing, and a whole lot of things we won’t be able to look up on our phones on the internet.

The time it takes to make microwave popcorn is just a small amount of time it takes to cook the popcorn. We can’t take it for granted and we need to read and learn about the past. We can’t ignore all the time and effort it took to get us to this point in civilization where we can have popcorn at the push of a button.

But really, this is just a long way of saying, contact your local cub pack or boy scout troop and order some popcorn. We need kids who know how to tie knots and lashings and can start fires in wet conditions in case that EMP ever happens.

I’m sure there’s also some poor popcorn kernel who didn’t ask anyone about past sales and didn’t read that you can’t return the unopened cases of peanut butter cup popcorn for credit. By this time, I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to sell you some at cost.

Please.

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  1. Addiction Is A Choice Member

    I, Popcorn

    • #1
    • October 21, 2020, at 1:24 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. flownover Member

    Sorry, but the plaintiffs attorneys are shutting down the boy scouts, so you’d better hurry

    • #2
    • October 21, 2020, at 1:28 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  3. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Eddy,

    Sometimes simple-sounding questions are more complicated than you might expect. First, different manufacturers of the bags of microwave popcorn are different. The size of the bag quantity and extra ingredients in special bags will affect the outcome. Different microwaves have different power capabilities in watts.

    However, by using a basic technique that relies on your own manual interference, not automated settings, one can achieve consistently good results. First, place the bag directly in the center of the microwave rotating platen (always important) and select a low power setting. Try 3 out of 10 with 10 being the highest setting. Now crank up the timer for 5 min, it doesn’t matter because you will now stand next to the microwave and listen. The bag will now slowly and evenly heat up. You will start to hear slow popping. Open the door (switches off the microwave). Now put the setting on high with the timer for longer than it needs to be. You will very soon hear rapid popping. The bag will expand to accommodate the popped kernels. The popping will start to slow down as you reach maximum pop. Don’t push it too far or you will burn some of the kernels. Manually switch off when you’ve got as much as it is safe to get.

    Don’t ever forget that although devices now possess a microprocessor that large thing between your ears is a macro processor. Use it.

    Regards,

    Jim

     

    • #3
    • October 21, 2020, at 1:31 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. kedavis Member

    I don’t think the “popcorn button” on a microwave oven actually “detects” anything. I think it just sets a time like all the others, and it’s mostly there to keep stupid people from thinking “well, it takes 20 minutes in the air popper so I’ll do that” and then it starts a fire.

    • #4
    • October 21, 2020, at 1:32 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  5. Stad Coolidge

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    Eddy,

    Sometimes simple-sounding questions are more complicated than you might expect. First, different manufacturers of the bags of microwave popcorn are different. The size of the bag quantity and extra ingredients in special bags will affect the outcome. Different microwaves have different power capabilities in watts.

    However, by using a basic technique that relies on your own manual interference, not automated settings, one can achieve consistently good results. First, place the bag directly in the center of the microwave rotating platen (always important) and select a low power setting. Try 3 out of 10 with 10 being the highest setting. Now crank up the timer for 5 min, it doesn’t matter because you will now stand next to the microwave and listen. The bag will now slowly and evenly heat up. You will start to hear slow popping. Open the door (switches off the microwave). Now put the setting on high with the timer for longer than it needs to be. You will very soon hear rapid popping. The bag will expand to accommodate the popped kernels. The popping will start to slow down as you reach maximum pop. Don’t push it too far or you will burn some of the kernels. Manually switch off when you’ve got as much as it is safe to get.

    Don’t ever forget that although devices now possess a microprocessor that large thing between your ears is a macro processor. Use it.

    Regards,

    Jim

     

    I just put the darn microwave on high and wait until the popping sound rapidly slows down, then stop. That way, you can cook 95% of the popcorn without burning any. Regardless of the technique, never leave microwave popcorn unattended while cooking.

    • #5
    • October 21, 2020, at 1:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. kedavis Member

    Actually “power setting” on a microwave is something of a misnomer. Microwave ovens are not like a stove-top element. I’ve never met a microwave where that actually set the “power level.” What it really does is change the “duty cycle.” That is, the microwave “power” is ON for X seconds, and then OFF for Y seconds, then back ON again for X seconds…

    • #6
    • October 21, 2020, at 2:12 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. Vance Richards Member
    Vance RichardsJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    flownover (View Comment):

    Sorry, but the plaintiffs attorneys are shutting down the boy scouts, so you’d better hurry

    I got an email this morning asking if any scout leaders abused me. If they are spamming this, they must be expecting big money. What if a scout leader abused me with asbestos and then sprinkled me with Johnson & Johnson baby powder? That’s the kind of thing slip-and-fall guys dream about.

    PS. Girl Scout cookies are so much better than BSA popcorn. I feel sorry for those boys trying to sell $12 bags of popcorn.

    • #7
    • October 21, 2020, at 2:35 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Arahant Member

    Nice essay.

    • #8
    • October 21, 2020, at 2:36 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. kedavis Member

    Could I really be the only one who connected this to “how pencils are made?”

    • #9
    • October 21, 2020, at 2:36 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. kedavis Member

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    flownover (View Comment):

    Sorry, but the plaintiffs attorneys are shutting down the boy scouts, so you’d better hurry

    I got an email this morning asking if any scout leaders abused me. If they are spamming this, they must be expecting big money. What if a scout leader abused me with asbestos and then sprinkled me with Johnson & Johnson baby powder? That’s the kind of thing slip-and-fall guys dream about.

    PS. Girl Scout cookies are so much better than BSA popcorn. I feel sorry for those boys trying to sell $12 bags of popcorn.

    Those TV ads run all the time on stuff like Me TV, and TV Land, and ION, etc.

    • #10
    • October 21, 2020, at 2:38 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. Addiction Is A Choice Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Could I really be the only one who connected this to “how pencils are made?”

    I call your attention to comment #1

    • #11
    • October 21, 2020, at 2:40 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. kedavis Member

    Addiction Is A Choice (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Could I really be the only one who connected this to “how pencils are made?”

    I call your attention to comment #1

    Oh, I didn’t follow the link. Figured it was supposed to be about “I, Robot.”

    • #12
    • October 21, 2020, at 3:27 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Actually “power setting” on a microwave is something of a misnomer. Microwave ovens are not like a stove-top element. I’ve never met a microwave where that actually set the “power level.” What it really does is change the “duty cycle.” That is, the microwave “power” is ON for X seconds, and then OFF for Y seconds, then back ON again for X seconds…

    ke,

    In most situations, including this one, the effect is the same. With the power turned off the heat energy is given time to dissipate and not create a hot spot. For the same reason, the rotation also helps, and centering the pack well also helps. Again the lower power setting allows the heating of the pack to occur more evenly. Thus the vast majority of kernels are brought up to roughly popping temperature. Now they can be quickly pushed over into popping temperature. It is a judgment call as to how far you can go after that before you will scorch some.

    Of course, Stad just blasts away at max temp from the getgo. He then also has the good sense to watch the whole thing and not rely on a precalculation of the time. This is like with the Tesla self-driving car. After some negative experiences, they realized that you could only safely self-drive if you were ready at all times to take back control of the car in case the program really wasn’t that good. A not so much self-driving car.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #13
    • October 21, 2020, at 4:29 PM PDT
    • Like
  14. kedavis Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Actually “power setting” on a microwave is something of a misnomer. Microwave ovens are not like a stove-top element. I’ve never met a microwave where that actually set the “power level.” What it really does is change the “duty cycle.” That is, the microwave “power” is ON for X seconds, and then OFF for Y seconds, then back ON again for X seconds…

    ke,

    In most situations, including this one, the effect is the same. With the power turned off the heat energy is given time to dissipate and not create a hot spot. For the same reason, the rotation also helps, and centering the pack well also helps. Again the lower power setting allows the heating of the pack to occur more evenly. Thus the vast majority of kernels are brought up to roughly popping temperature. Now they can be quickly pushed over into popping temperature. It is a judgment call as to how far you can go after that before you will scorch some.

    Of course, Stad just blasts away at max temp from the getgo. He then also has the good sense to watch the whole thing and not rely on a precalculation of the time. This is like with the Tesla self-driving car. After some negative experiences, they realized that you could only safely self-drive if you were ready at all times to take back control of the car in case the program really wasn’t that good. A not so much self-driving car.

    Regards,

    Jim

    That and, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the situations in which many people might think a self-driving car would be the most safe and useful, are the same situations in which a self-driving car could not function: blizzards, etc.

    That said, if you were cooking – or even making popcorn – over something like a gas stove burner, you can actually get “medium heat.” You don’t just get maximum-flame for X seconds and then no flame at all for Y seconds.

    • #14
    • October 21, 2020, at 4:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  15. Hoyacon Member

    So, two minutes?

    • #15
    • October 21, 2020, at 4:42 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):
    That said, if you were cooking – or even making popcorn – over something like a gas stove burner, you can actually get “medium heat.” You don’t just get maximum-flame for X seconds and then no flame at all for Y seconds.

    ke,

    Yes, a nice continuum is so soothing. However, eventually, you may see the value in quantum jumps. Of course, they must be small enough and enough of them so they can work well. If they are really small and there are really enough of them they make something that works better than any analog device could ever work. So are the quantum jumps emulating a continuum or is the continuum just a nice fiction to make us feel good and make our calculations easy? Einstein was sure that the continuum was the way to go, you just needed more dimensions. The continuum was more elegant I think he would say. Probability was for deplorables. (OK Albert never used the word deplorables, I just threw that in for effect but it isn’t far from what Einstein meant.)

    But was Albert right … ?

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #16
    • October 21, 2020, at 5:18 PM PDT
    • Like
    • This comment has been edited.
  17. Addiction Is A Choice Member

    For the record: Microwave popcorn is a crime against nature!

    • #17
    • October 21, 2020, at 5:21 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. kedavis Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    That said, if you were cooking – or even making popcorn – over something like a gas stove burner, you can actually get “medium heat.” You don’t just get maximum-flame for X seconds and then no flame at all for Y seconds.

    ke,

    Yes, a nice continuum is so soothing. However, eventually, you may see the value in quantum jumps. Of course, they must be small enough and enough of them so they can work well. If they are really small and there are really enough of them they make something that works better than any analog device could ever work. So are the quantum jumps emulating a continuum or is the continuum just a nice fiction to make us feel good and make our calculations easy? Einstein was sure that the continuum was the way to go, you just needed more dimensions. The continuum was more elegant I think he would say. Probability was for deplorables. (OK Albert never used the word deplorables, I just threw that in for effect but it isn’t far from what Einstein meant.)

    But was Albert right … ?

    Regards,

    Jim

    Well you could say that even most – if not all – of what we see as “a continuum” is really a very large number of quantum events at varying rates. But still, if you turn on the heat very high and then turn it off, rather than leaving it at “medium,” you can curdle or scorch the milk. And that means no dessert!

    • #18
    • October 21, 2020, at 5:29 PM PDT
    • Like
  19. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Addi,

    But a microwave is employing nature. The electromagnetic spectrum is part of nature. The microwave uses a wavelength that is in harmonic accord with the water molecule. Thus all of its energy is absorbed by the water molecules inside the food it is cooking. This is much more efficient than just heating the whole oven up.

    On the other hand, if too much interest in the microwave were to preclude one from meeting a very beautiful woman who knew how to cook very very well, then yes I would agree that would be a crime against nature (and a damn shame too).

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #19
    • October 21, 2020, at 5:33 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily EssentialJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I can tell you when this Den leader, then ASM tried to do these mind expanding explanations, the eyes would roll back into their little sockets until they were overcome with the insatiable urge to fall asleep.

    I have done my 20 years of hawking the golden kernels…..

    P.S. I like the pre popped chocolate cover ones the best.

    • #20
    • October 21, 2020, at 5:36 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. kedavis Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    Addi,

    But a microwave is employing nature. The electromagnetic spectrum is part of nature. The microwave uses a wavelength that is in harmonic accord with the water molecule. Thus all of its energy is absorbed by the water molecules inside the food it is cooking. This is much more efficient than just heating the whole oven up.

    On the other hand, if too much interest in the microwave were to preclude one from meeting a very beautiful woman who knew how to cook very very well, then yes I would agree that would be a crime against nature (and a damn shame too).

    Regards,

    Jim

    I’ve never met anyone who makes popcorn in the regular oven.

    And I hope I never do. They sound rather… strange?

    • #21
    • October 21, 2020, at 5:36 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    That said, if you were cooking – or even making popcorn – over something like a gas stove burner, you can actually get “medium heat.” You don’t just get maximum-flame for X seconds and then no flame at all for Y seconds.

    ke,

    Yes, a nice continuum is so soothing. However, eventually, you may see the value in quantum jumps. Of course, they must be small enough and enough of them so they can work well. If they are really small and there are really enough of them they make something that works better than any analog device could ever work. So are the quantum jumps emulating a continuum or is the continuum just a nice fiction to make us feel good and make our calculations easy? Einstein was sure that the continuum was the way to go, you just needed more dimensions. The continuum was more elegant I think he would say. Probability was for deplorables. (OK Albert never used the word deplorables, I just threw that in for effect but it isn’t far from what Einstein meant.)

    But was Albert right … ?

    Regards,

    Jim

    Well you could say that even most – if not all – of what we see as “a continuum” is really a very large number of quantum events at varying rates. But still, if you turn on the heat very high and then turn it off, rather than leaving it at “medium,” you can curdle or scorch the milk. And that means no dessert!

    OK OK, you’ve got me there. I’m going to have my dessert come hell or high water or even if they solve the continuum problem. Good point ke.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #22
    • October 21, 2020, at 5:37 PM PDT
    • Like
  23. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    Addi,

    But a microwave is employing nature. The electromagnetic spectrum is part of nature. The microwave uses a wavelength that is in harmonic accord with the water molecule. Thus all of its energy is absorbed by the water molecules inside the food it is cooking. This is much more efficient than just heating the whole oven up.

    On the other hand, if too much interest in the microwave were to preclude one from meeting a very beautiful woman who knew how to cook very very well, then yes I would agree that would be a crime against nature (and a damn shame too).

    Regards,

    Jim

    I’ve never met anyone who makes popcorn in the regular oven.

    And I hope I never do. They sound rather… strange?

    ke,

    You had me at dessert. However, this is foolishness. Your gas burner on medium is heating up the whole room, not just the popcorn. Fabulously inefficient.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #23
    • October 21, 2020, at 5:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. kedavis Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    Addi,

    But a microwave is employing nature. The electromagnetic spectrum is part of nature. The microwave uses a wavelength that is in harmonic accord with the water molecule. Thus all of its energy is absorbed by the water molecules inside the food it is cooking. This is much more efficient than just heating the whole oven up.

    On the other hand, if too much interest in the microwave were to preclude one from meeting a very beautiful woman who knew how to cook very very well, then yes I would agree that would be a crime against nature (and a damn shame too).

    Regards,

    Jim

    I’ve never met anyone who makes popcorn in the regular oven.

    And I hope I never do. They sound rather… strange?

    ke,

    You had me at dessert. However, this is foolishness. Your gas burner on medium is heating up the whole room, not just the popcorn. Fabulously inefficient.

    Regards,

    Jim

    “I’ve got news that will move you and shake you.”

    Microwave ovens don’t ONLY heat the food, either. They have cooling fans, and vents, for a reason.

    • #24
    • October 21, 2020, at 5:57 PM PDT
    • Like
  25. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Microwave ovens don’t ONLY heat the food, either. They have cooling fans, and vents, for a reason.

    ke,

    Still, a trivial amount of energy and heat lost in comparison. You made a much stronger point with dessert.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #25
    • October 21, 2020, at 6:01 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. kedavis Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Microwave ovens don’t ONLY heat the food, either. They have cooling fans, and vents, for a reason.

    ke,

    Still, a trivial amount of energy and heat lost in comparison. You made a much stronger point with dessert.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Well, yes, dessert really is the point.

    • #26
    • October 21, 2020, at 6:39 PM PDT
    • Like
  27. Eddy Ericsson Coolidge
    Eddy Ericsson

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    I can tell you when this Den leader, then ASM tried to do these mind expanding explanations, the eyes would roll back into their little sockets until they were overcome with the insatiable urge to fall asleep.

    I have done my 20 years of hawking the golden kernels…..

    P.S. I like the pre popped chocolate cover ones the best.

    It works better with the older ones, but you have to consistently drop this kinda stuff so they come to expect it. Volume = less eye rolling.

    • #27
    • October 21, 2020, at 7:12 PM PDT
    • Like
  28. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    This is like with the Tesla self-driving car. After some negative experiences, they realized that you could only safely self-drive if you were ready at all times to take back control of the car in case the program really wasn’t that good. A not so much self-driving car.

    Regards,

    Jim

    That and, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the situations in which many people might think a self-driving car would be the most safe and useful, are the same situations in which a self-driving car could not function: blizzards, etc.

    Plus, since people will not have been driving “routinely”, their skills will have deteriorated so that they are even less prepared for handling the poor road conditions.

     

    • #28
    • October 22, 2020, at 8:56 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    I can tell you when this Den leader, then ASM tried to do these mind expanding explanations, the eyes would roll back into their little sockets until they were overcome with the insatiable urge to fall asleep.

    I have done my 20 years of hawking the golden kernels…..

    I don’t know how universal this is, but in my kids Cub Scout troop, the parent in charge of the popcorn sales holds the title of “Popcorn Colonel”.

     

     

    • #29
    • October 22, 2020, at 8:59 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  30. Arahant Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    I don’t know how universal this is, but in my kids Cub Scout troop, the parent in charge of the popcorn sales holds the title of “Popcorn Colonel”.

    That is a terrible pun.

    • #30
    • October 22, 2020, at 9:29 AM PDT
    • Like