There are lots of articles about how to pop popcorn in a brown paper bag in the microwave. We tested tips and here’s what worked for us:
A regular paper lunch bag with ¼ cup of popcorn in the bottom, mixed with ½ tsp olive oil and ¼ tsp popcorn salt (*finely ground salt, or popcorn salt, such as Morton Popcorn Salt), fold over twice and stand up in the microwave. Microwave until popping slows down to a couple pops per second.
There are a few different websites that talk about making your own microwave popcorn in a brown paper bag. The big draw of this idea is 1. less money, and 2. fewer chemicals than standard microwave popcorn. Not less money and chemicals than hot air or stove top, but less than purchased microwave popcorn bags.
I love popcorn (and I know I’m not alone here), but I’m not interested in microwave popcorn. I have not read a great deal about the chemicals in it, so I won’t pretend I’m an expert on that – I’m just not a fan of the chemical smell or the taste. I must say, though, when I read about brown bag microwave popcorn, my curiosity was piqued. Would that actually work? Reading through the responses on other sites, it appears that results varied. Hah, time to test it out.
Here’s the basic idea: put popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, fold the top over twice (some staple it), put it in the microwave, and pop it until the popping slows down to a couple pops per second. I’m not going to give a time, because everyone’s microwave is different, but I can’t see it taking more than a couple minutes. But it’s the details that matter, so here’s what I tested:
1. Should you put a staple in the bag to hold it shut?
2. How much popcorn should go in the bag: ¼, 1/3 or ½ cup?
3. Should the popcorn kernels be soaked in water first?
4. Should the air be squeezed out of the bag first?
5. Does the type of popcorn matter: yellow vs. white?
6. Does the age of the kernels matter – will old kernels pop?
7. Does the brand of popcorn matter: brand name vs. no name?
8. Does the brand of paper bag matter?
9. Should the bag stand up or lie down on its side?
10. Should there be oil in with the kernels?
11. Does the type of salt matter: regular vs. popcorn salt? Okay, this one obviously does not affect the popping, I just wanted to know which was better…
12. Should we use brown paper lunch bags in the microwave?
This to me was a no brainer. The bag works just fine folded over a couple times. Although most sites tell you to put two staples in the top of the bag, I refuse to even test that. It doesn’t matter to me if a food expert recommends it. I might be curious if an engineer who did research for a microwave company recommended it (but I still wouldn’t do it).
How much popcorn?
Although some sites say ½ cup, I found ½ cup burnt some kernels, and ¼ cup worked better (some still didn’t pop). So basically, this method worked better for an individual snack size bag, as opposed to a big sharing size.
Soak in water first?
Okay, I was curious about this. Some people recommend soaking the popcorn kernels in water first; the idea being that the moisture content inside the kernel would increase, and since what causes the popcorn kernel to pop is heated steam inside the kernel, then the kernel would pop better. Sounds reasonable. I found it made no difference.
Should the air be squeezed out of the bag?
Some people recommend squeezing the air out of the bag first. I found it popped a little better without doing that.
Type of popcorn
I had only ever bought yellow popcorn, but apparently, there are other types. For example, white. I tried both, and they both work the same. Same volume popped, no big difference between the two. Except white is… whiter.
Old popcorn vs. new popcorn
Newer kernels popped better. End of story.
Brand of popcorn
I found no difference in popping time or quality with brand name vs. no name.
Brand of paper bag
I compared three different types, and apparently, a lunch bag is a lunch bag. No difference. The question of whether a paper lunch bag should actually go in the microwave is a different question. More later.
Should the bag stand up or lie down?
Interestingly enough, although many sites recommend that you lay the bag on its side, mine worked better standing up. Less burning, more popping.
With oil and salt or without?
I must say, yummier with ½ tsp of olive oil and a bit of salt put in with the kernels (some say 1 tsp of olive oil, but I found that unnecessary); however, a messier bag and microwave (you may want a plate underneath). The tradeoff is that it seems to take less oil and salt to flavour it when you put it in with the kernels than when you put it on afterwards. Of course, just plain is great too.
Salt: regular vs. popcorn
Popcorn salt is very finely ground salt. The popcorn was better with it, due to a lighter, more even dusting all over.
Should we put brown paper bags in the microwave?
I’ll be honest. I hadn’t thought about this before researching this article. The USDA lists “brown paper bags and newspapers” under their “not safe to use in the microwave” section. They do not give a reason; however, they recommend using food-safe bags only. I don’t know whether it is because brown paper bags are made of paper and thus flammable, or because they are made of recycled fibres in many cases, or other reasons.
So what worked?
If you decide to pop popcorn in a brown paper bag in the microwave, here is a summary of what worked best for us at TipBusters:
In a small bowl mix together:
1/2 tsp oil (I used olive oil)
1/4 tsp salt (*finely ground salt, or popcorn salt, such as Morton Popcorn Salt)
Stir in 1/4 cup popcorn kernels (any kind will do, but fresh will pop better)
Stir with a spoon until everything is well-mixed. Pour into a brown paper bag. Fold the bag over 2 to 3 times, and place upright in the microwave.
Microwave until popping slows down a couple pops per second. Everyone’s microwave is different, and will require a different amount of time. I have a 1200W microwave, and I cooked it for 1 minute and 25 seconds. Only use the paper bag once.
Check out my other post: Microwave Kettle Corn in a Brown Paper Bag for more easy, delicious popcorn!