Food Composition and Taste

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The Unpopping Popcorn Kernels

Have you ever wondered why at the end of every bowl or bag of popcorn, you always have kernels that are left unpopped? You are then left behind with something of worthless value since eating these would only leave you with the possibility of breaking your teeth or choking from trying. But fear no further!

Scientists have discovered the secret behind unpoppable popcorn. According to the research done, the key factor that contributes to the popping quality is the chemical structure of the pericarp, the outer hull of the kernel. This covering is composed of a crystalline structure of cellulose, a carbohydrate made of glucose units, in which enables the pericarp to lock moisture and build pressure within the kernel. Eventually, the pressure results in the kernel to rupture, forming the popcorn that we eat.

Scientists identified that those in which have a stronger, more highly ordered crystalline arrangement of the cellulose molecules have the best results in popping. This is because the stronger form of the cellulose structure maximizes the moisture retention/pressure within the kernel, thus resulting in a higher chance of it completely rupturing.

Cellulose structure

This video can help visualize what’s happening inside the popcorn and why it pops.

So there may come a day when we begin to see all of our popcorn popped in our bowls/bags. It’s just a matter of time to find the perfect technique to engineer the kernels to have the optimal crystalline structure.

Author: Jennifer Lee

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