Can You Make Popcorn in a Toaster Oven? (And Why Do They Pop)

popcorn-and-chips
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Everyone loves scooping handfuls of popcorn into their mouth. Turns out, popcorn is a healthy snack – thanks to its rich dietary fiber, free-radical fighting antioxidants, and typically low-calorie count. That said, pre-popped, pre-flavored bags are a big waste of money and are unhealthy. So, why not make them at home in a toaster oven?

Toaster oven popcorn is convenient – if you are too lazy to wait for a large microwave oven to preheat or just want to ditch the oil-filled traditional method.

Here is everything you should know about making popcorn in a toaster oven.

Can You Make Popcorn in a Toaster Oven?

Though it is possible to pop popcorn in a toaster oven, it is important to follow safety tips. A toaster oven cooks foods by heating a metallic heating element placed in the roof or bottom of the oven. Placing the paper bag containing kernels increase the risk of fire hazard especially if it gets anywhere near the heating element.  

Popcorn kernels only need heat to pop. That’s why the old ways of simply heating the kernels in some oil in a pot on the stovetop are always recommended. That being said, if you prefer a healthy, oil-free way to enjoy popcorn, fire-up the toaster oven (with precautions, of course!).  

How to Make Popcorn in the Toaster Oven?

If you do not have a microwave or a stove and are desperate for home-made popcorn, here’s what you should do with the toaster oven. 

Step 1: Set the toaster oven temperature to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 2: Take an oven-proof metal or ceramic pot. The pot should be big and roomy enough for the kernels to pop but small enough to fit in the toaster oven.

Step 3: Pour 1/2 cup kernels into the pot, cover the top with a lid or aluminum foil and place it in the oven. 

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Step 4: Now, wait until you hear popping.

Step 5: When the popping subsides turn off the oven and carefully remove the pot with pads or oven mitts.

Step 6: Let it sit before opening the lid/foil.  

Step 7: Season your popcorn if desired.

Note: Do not add too many kernels. Do not cover the pot loosely, the popcorn may fall out once the kennels are completely popped out.  

Why Does Popcorn Pop?

The folklore of ancient tribes attributed popcorn’s magic to the spirits who lived in the kernels that would burst anger when heated. In reality, the real reason why popcorn pops is a matter of simple science.

Each corn kernel is made up of various layers: the outer pericarp or hull, the middle endosperm containing starch, and the inner germ. Both the endosperm and the germ contain moisture (approximately 14%). When the kernel is heated, the moisture trapped inside starts to steam.

The steam cannot escape the thick pericarp, so as the temperature rises, pressure builds within the kernel. When the internal temperature is 355 to 400-degree Fahrenheit, the endosperm explodes out of the hull. The proteins and starch inside the kernel expand into a foam, which cools and sets into the white popcorn puff.

Based on the shape it takes after the explosion, popcorn is classified as a snowflake and mushroom.

  1. Snowflake popcorn: The kennel explodes inside out with the white endosperm on the outside, and the hull on the inside.
  2. Mushroom popcorn: Here the kernel doesn’t flip inside out. It looks as if the endosperm is expanded and the hull broke apart into smaller pieces.

Why Some Kernels Do Not Pop?

In every batch of popcorn, there will always be a few rebellious kernels that never or partially pop. There are several possible causes, the most common being too much or too little moisture content. According to scientific studies, the ideal moisture content for popping popcorn is 13 -14.5%.

A faulty hull with small cracks is another reason behind popping pitfalls. When the moisture heats and turns into steam, it slowly leaks out of the hull. Without enough steam, pressure cannot build and, the kernels may remain completely intact.

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Improper or slow heating can also cause popping failure.

Corn kernels pop best at 350 to 450°F. Most cooking oils have a smoking point close to popcorn’s popping temperature. For an instant, a full burst adds kernels to pre-heated oil such as olive, canola, sunflower, or coconut oil. Pop them in the microwave or toaster oven if you want to go oil-free.

What is the Best Way to Cook Popcorn?

Oven-popped popcorn is healthy but nothing compares to the stovetop popcorn made with butter or extra-virgin olive oil. Also, the traditional stovetop technique is the best way to cook popcorn.  

  1. Get yourself ½ cup of organic (optional) popcorn kernels, cooking oil of your choice, a pinch of kosher salt, and some red chili flakes.
  2. The kernels will multiply in volume once popped up so the cooking vessel should be roomy. An enameled or heavy bottomed vessel with good heat conductivity would do the job. You can opt for a lid or aluminum foil to prevent the popcorn from ricocheting all over the kitchen.
  3. Now, add about 3Tbsp. of cooking oil into the pan and put it on medium heat. Pour a few ‘test’ kernels into it and listen for pop-pop-pop.
  4. Then, add 1/2 cup popcorn kernels, stir to coat with oil, put the lid on, and wait for 2-3minutes for popping noise.  
  5. After the popping has been happening for 2 minutes, shake the vessel up and down to ensure all kernels are popped out.
  6. When popping subsides, turn off the heat, and set the lid askew. You wouldn’t want soggy popcorns.
  7. After a minute, pour the popcorn into a wider bowl, sprinkle kosher salt and chili flakes, and toss vigorously. Remember, this needs to happen while the popcorn is still hot.

How Hot Does it Have to be to Pop Popcorn?

Popcorn kernel has starch and moisture trapped in its layers. When popcorn is heated, the moisture expands into steam, but it cannot escape through the hard hull or seed coat. The steam gelatinizes the starch inside the kernel, making it softer and flexible.

When the temperature reaches 180-degree Celsius (355-degree Fahrenheit), the internal pressure is around 135 psi, which is sufficient enough to burst open the hull.

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Most varieties of popcorn pop at about 450 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is higher than this optimal value, the popcorn burns. At temperatures below 150-degree Celsius (300-degree Fahrenheit), the popcorn will not pop as the hull won’t burst open because the moisture inside the kernels has not yet evaporated.

Is a Toaster Oven Healthier Than a Microwave?

Microwave or toaster oven popcorn, in theory, is no different. Both use the same popcorn kernels which are full of fiber and polyphenols.

The problems come from the added ingredients and chemicals in the paper bag. The research found that the chemical, diacetyl, used to give popcorn a buttery flavor can cause bronchiolitis obliterans or popcorn lung.

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) present in the bags is another concern. Many brands use PFCs in their popcorn bags and pizza boxes as it is stain- and weather resistant. As popcorn kernels are popped in the microwave, PFCs in the bag breaks down into perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a carcinogenic chemical.

Avoid processed, bagged popcorn. Here’s how you can make them at home.

  1. Take no more than 1/3 cup popcorn in an oven-safe bowl; otherwise, you may end with lots of kernels that do not pop.
  2. Cover the bowl with a lid or foil and set the microwave on high for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Listen carefully after the 2-minute mark. If popping subsides before the timer, stop the microwave and take the bowl out carefully.  
  4. Let it sit for a minute before lifting the lid to release the steam.
  5. If you like your popcorn plain, you can eat it straight from the bowl. Otherwise, you can toss the popcorn with melted butter, cheese, or olive oil with a generous sprinkle of salt.

Moving onto toaster oven popcorn’s safety: as long as it is made at home, toaster oven popcorns are safe. Of course, you need to be careful to avoid fire hazards.

Why Can’t Popcorn be Popped in Boiling Water?

The corn kernels need to remain dry and hard to withstand high popping pressures. Simultaneously, the ideal temperature for the kernels to burst open is well above the boiling point of water.

References:

https://www.usaemergencysupply.com/information-center/all-about/all-about-whole-grains/all-about-popcorn

https://europepmc.org/article/agr/ind43636144

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/difference-between-snowflake-popcorn-kernel-mushroom-popcorn-kernel-62836.html

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22731744/

About Sylvette Brown

Sylvette is a homemaker and is passionate about cooking and other kitchen-related stuff. She also loves to do home improvement related tasks and keeps on writing about food and cookware on her blog. When she is not writing, she keeps herself busy with her 2 little kids. :)