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U.S. Popcorn: Popping Profits
as published in The American Exporter magazine
by Lisa Mooney
Most of the popcorn consumed throughout the world is grown in the United States. Although world-wide sales of popcorn are steadily increasing, Americans consume more popcorn than the citizens of any other country.
Because popcorn is a snack food, it faces substantial competition from other products. However, popcorn's versatility and nutritional attributes helps it compete with other snacks. Popcorn is a whole grain food which makes it a high-quality carbohydrate source that is not only low in calories, but a good source of fiber. This means it takes longer to chew and makes you feel full longer. Air-popped popcorn provides only 30 calories per cup. When oil-popped, it contains only 55 calories. Three cups of popcorn counts as 1 ounce equivalent of whole grains.
The major factors that influence popcorn quality are kernel moisture, expansion ratios, and popping ratios. To achieve the utmost in popability, the moisture content of the popcorn should be from 13 percent to 14.5 percent; 13.5 percent is considered ideal. A moisture content over or under the percentages greatly reduces popability. Expansion ratios refer to the volume of popped corn per gram of unpopped kernels. Processors consider the minimum expansion ratio for good popcorn to be 35 to 38 to one. However, some of today's varieties expand to over 40 cubic centimeters per gram. In addition, kernel moisture and expansion ratio are also related to popping ratios. Popping ratios represent the proportion of kernels that actually pop during the popping process. The highest-quality popcorn has at least a 98 percent popping ratio.
Within the popcorn industry, competition centers on flavoring and packaging. In the unpopped category, nearly all companies offer microwavable packaging. This packaging form not only meets consumer convenience demands, but also allows for a variety of flavors.
In the early 1980's, microwave popcorn was born into the popcorn family. Today, more than 80 percent of U.S. consumer households own microwaves - that is over 73 million microwaves in homes alone! Outside of the home, people of all ages enjoy the taste of warm, freshly popped popcorn, too. With the time and preparation convenience microwavable popcorn offers, you can see popcorn "popping up" as an afternoon snack. Microwavable popcorn also comes in a wide-variety of flavors including lowfat, extra butter, and gourmet to satisfy all appetites.
One pioneer in popcorn is Preferred Popcorn, LLC headquartered near Chapman, in the fertile Platte River Valley of central Nebraska. Preferred Popcorn, LLC produces top quality popcorn for both bulk and microwave popcorn.
Their 100 percent farmer-owned company grows and processes premium bulk popcorn. Their delicious corn is grown and sold as bulk, microwave, all-in-one kits, and smaller 2 lb. poly bags. They also provide all the concessionary needs such as popping equipment, oil, and supplies.
Growers in Nebraska, South Dakota, Indiana, and Kentucky grow Preferred Popcorn using the newest farm technology and green farming practices such as no-till methods. In dry areas, irrigation guarantees the moisture necessary to ensure the availiblity of consistent quality popcorn.
What sets U.S. popcorn apart from the competition? A company representative explained "high quality U.S. popcorn produces more servings per bag than anywhere else in the world".
Currently, they export to over 55 countries, and the largest markets at the time are Mexico, Canada, and China. When asked which items are the most popular exports, the company representative said the primary product remains bulk popcorn. We have seen a tremendous growth in the gourmet and ready-to-eat popcorn products, and demands for "jumbo mushroom" popcorn have increased."
To find out more about Preferred Popcorn's products, you will find them exhibiting at the following tradeshows: CineEurope, CineAsia, ANTAD in Mexico, and SFH 2014 in Seoul, Korea. Or simply visit their website at www.preferredpopcorn.com.
Good popcorn should provide at least 98 percent popped kernels with well under two percent "spinsters" or unpopped kernels. Proper care at the processing level helps to assure this. Processors guard against contamination and other types of kernel damage which could lower popcorn quality.
Because home storage and handling can affect the moisture content of popcorn - and therefore the popability - opened packages of raw kernels should be stored in airtight containers until used. Stay away from storing popcorn in the refrigerator. Air inside a refrigerator contains very little moisture and can cause the popcorn to dry out.
Without moisture- 13.5 to 14 percent per kernel is needed - popcorn cannot pop. That is why it is important to store popcorn correctly. An entire percentage of moisture can be lost if your kernels are left uncovered on a hot day. And though that may not sound like a lot, it adds up. A loss of 3 percent can render popcorn unpoppable. And even a 1 percent drop in moisture will harm the quality of your kernels. So what is the best way to store popcorn? Airtight containers- plastic or glass- are you best bet to avoid moisture loss, especially when stored in a cool place like a cupboard. Avoid the refrigerator. Some say the cold storage makes the popcorn taste better, but many refrigerators contain little moisture and can dry out the kernels.
Popcorn Tips for the Foodservice Professional
Top soup or salad servings with popped popcorn
Season plain corn with garlic powder or seasoning salt
Season the popping oil with spices to create a lightly flavored savory treat
Create easy to prepare and tasty popcorn dessert bars; tint liquid mixture for different holidays such as Valentine's day, St. Patrick's day, or Halloween
Combine popcorn with dried fruit and nuts to create your own custom snack mix
Offer different portion sizes in resealable, airtight bags
The Popcorn Board
The Popcorn Board is a non-profit organization funded by U.S. popcorn processors. The Board strives to raise the awareness of U.S. popcorn as a versatile whole-grain snack via domestic and international marketing efforts. A great resource for everything popcorn, visit them at www.popcorn.org
The Popcorn Board Website
Preferred Popcorn Website