What Popcorn Can Teach Us About Eating Right
Food. Healthy. Diets. Eating. Cooking. Sustainable. Local. All big buzz words for 2010. I have dozens of blog posts ruminating in my head that cover all of these topics – attempts to clarify all of this Food Confusion and help people get back on track. But today, I am going to talk about popcorn.
Twice yesterday, I encountered the tell-tale smell of microwave popcorn. And it got me thinking about how people are trying to eat healthier – but struggle with finding the time to prepare food from scratch. I’m particularly passionate about popcorn – love the stuff. When I make it, I prepare it on the stove in a pot with some oil – “old-fashioned” style. It takes me approximately 5-6 minutes. The only ingredients I use are: popcorn kernels, oil, and kosher salt.
Microwave popcorn, on the other hand, takes roughly 3 minutes to “cook.” It contains all kinds of processed ingredients including: Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Natural Flavors, Annatto For Coloring, Soy Lecithin and/or Palm Oil and Freshness Preserved With Tbhq and Citric Acid. (It’s pretty cool that you can read the nutrition labels on packages via Amazon.com). In 2007, they discovered a chemical in microwave popcorn that causes lung problems.
We certainly like things to be instantaneous! Even if it means saving us just a few minutes. It never ceases to make me laugh when I take pictures of my nieces and nephews on my digital camera and they immediately say, “Let me see it!” We are so spoiled by technology now that we often forget that it’s the things that take a little time that we usually savor the most in life.
Last summer, I made popcorn for my Healthcorps students who are in their early 20’s. They were drooling over it. You would have thought I made them a gourmet 5-course meal – because most of them had never had it before! It not only tastes much better but it’s MUCH cheaper and it’s made with “real” ingredients our bodies recognize and know how to digest.
We can keep buying “100-calorie packs” and trying to go that route which, clearly hasn’t worked well for us over the past 20 years. Or, we can face the fact that our bodies want to consume food grown naturally – not engineered in a laboratory. Mother Nature’s food. If we cut out the chemicals, we will notice a lot of positive changes in our health including our energy levels, our skin, our weight, our moods and so on. This is especially important for kids – chemicals in processed foods are linked to all kinds of health, weight, and behavioral problems in children. Michael Pollan just discussed how crucial it is to eat “real” foods with Oprah last week.
I realize that it’s not easy to eat completely chemical-free these days. All we can do is keep making small differences in our diet – take baby steps toward a “cleaner” way of eating. Since processed foods are everywhere, we need to take every chance we can to reach for “real” foods – and save the “instant meals” for road trips and weekday evenings when everyone is exhausted.
Preparing a meal from scratch doesn’t take as long as you’d think. A UCLA study found that those making meals from scratch spent almost the same amount of time preparing dinner than those making a meal from partially-prepared, “convenient” foods. While developing recipes for my cookbook, I discovered that making (gourmet) macaroni and cheese from scratch takes roughly the same amount of time as it does to prepare it from a box.
So, next time you’re looking for a snack – instead of pulling out the chips or packaged foods, pull out a bag of popcorn kernels.
JULIE’S HOMEMADE POPCORN
One of my chef friends drizzles truffle oil over popcorn for a decadent snack. You can add all kinds of ingredients and spices: nutritional yeast, parmesan, cinammon sugar, or chili powder. This recipe yields a pretty big batch because I like to eat it the next day or put it in snack bags to take to work.
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I’m into grapeseed lately)
3/4 – 1 cup popcorn kernels (Organic, if possible)
Kosher salt to taste (Kosher or sea salt always trump table salt)
In a Dutch oven (or 8 quart pan), heat oil on medium to high heat. When it starts to shimmer (after a few minutes), add a popcorn kernel. When the oil starts to sizzle around the kernel, add the rest of the kernels. (I use a full cup in a Dutch oven which overflows a little when it’s fully popped.) Cover with tightly fitted lid.
Jiggle the pan just a little bit while the kernels start to heat up (you might need to use hot pads to hold the pan). When they all start to pop at once, jiggle the pan with more force so that the bottom pieces don’t burn. As soon as the popping sound starts to slow down, lower heat, jiggle for another minute or so and pull it off the heat. Salt and enjoy.
For more information on how chemicals in food can affect health, especially with regards to children, check out Robyn O’Brien’s new book, The Unhealthy Truth.