Popcorn. What would movies and sporting events be without this salty butter snack? America’s love for this snack goes beyond these events. We use 15 billion liters of popcorn every year.
When it comes to popcorn, consumers want a seed-to-snack treat that will leave more snacks than seeds when popping. This means that when the corn pops, there shouldn’t be a lot of unroasted kernels left in the bowl.
Maria Fernanda Maioli set out to determine the properties that would affect popping expansion in popcorn. The team’s research was recently published in. released Agronomy Journal, a publication from the American Society of Agronomy.
“The way the kernels expand is a fundamental, but very important, characteristic of popcorn,” says Fernanda Maioli. This is known as the “expansion ratio”.
“Very hard grains burst when heated. This expansion multiplies the initial volume of the grains by more than 40 times. In the case of popcorn, this creates a unique and tasty food. “
The most important factors influencing popcorn quality are core moisture, expansion ratio and popcorn ratio. Higher quality popcorn is associated with kernels that expand more. This popped corn has better texture and softness.
Several studies have been done in the past on how popcorn kernels expand. These studies report that popping expansion is strongly related to higher starch content in the kernels.
Previous research also shows that popcorn varieties with a thicker protective outer seed coat – have a greater expansion ratio.
The ability to pop is also affected by how well the starchy substance inside the kernel transfers heat during the popping process. The study by Fernanda Maioli and her team measured this performance, which makes this research unique.
“We observed how this heat transfer within the popcorn is related to the expansion ratio,” she adds. “This enabled us to understand how other features could relate to the expansion.”
“The purpose of our study was to identify popcorn properties related to expansion,” says Fernanda Maioli. “This will help us to efficiently identify types of popcorn with good agronomic properties and good popping quality.”
The team evaluated 49 types of popcorn for various properties. The characteristics included grain yield, grain length, bang expansion, grain and protective layer thickness, heat transfer capacity and the protein content of the grains.
Then the researchers examined the influence of these properties on popping expansion.
“Our results showed that the thickness of the outer layer of the kernel is a key factor in choosing popcorn with greater popping expansion,” says Fernanda Maioli.
Understanding what properties of popcorn are related to expansion capacity will help future researchers identify and grow high quality popcorn. Researchers don’t have to spend time or money studying other unrelated traits.
The team hopes to identify relationships between other key traits. Future research will further improve the tasty, buttery snack.
Maria Fernanda Maioli is a researcher at the State University of Maringá in Brazil.