Monday, February 1, 2010

The Other Popcorn Report

I think popcorn is just about the perfect snack. It's healthful, filling, and easy to make. Of course, if you load it up with butter and salt, it's not quite so healthful, but in its natural state, popcorn is a nutritious whole grain with about 125 calories, nearly 5 grams of fiber, and less than 1.5 grams of fat per quart (according to the USDA Nutrient Database). The only problem is, making this kind of stripped-down popcorn usually requires an air popper--a big, noisy appliance that takes up space and can be a hassle to extract from your cabinet. So for the sake of convenience, most people go with pricey, overpackaged microwave popcorn, which is exactly the opposite of ecofrugal. According to an analysis in The Complete Tightwad Gazette, microwave popcorn costs anywhere from 4 to 13 times as much as regular jar-packed popcorn, and each bowlful comes with a throwaway microwave bag and plastic wrapper.

Fortunately, there is an elegant solution that offers the convenience of microwave popcorn without the waste: the reusable microwave popper. This simple device costs about $10 and takes up no more cabinet space than a regular bowl. After some trial and error, I've found that the organic popcorn from the bulk bins at Whole Foods works best in my home microwave. I measure 1/4 cup of kernels into the popper, punch in 3 minutes and 45 seconds, and pull out a full bowl of fluffy white popcorn with no more than half a dozen duds at the bottom. I don't even have to transfer it to another container--I just drizzle on some olive oil, sprinkle it with salt, and dive in.

A pound of the bulk popcorn costs about $1.60 and yields about 13 bowlfuls--12.5 cents per bowl. The cheapest microwave popcorn I've ever found (an off-brand on sale at the Dollar Tree) cost twice as much per bag. So an inexpensive microwave popper is an investment that will pay for itself after, at most, 80 uses--which, at the rate I go through popcorn, means about four months. And because I keep the popper and the popcorn both within easy reach, it actually requires no more work than unwrapping one of those wasteful little bags.
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