“Old Maids” at the bottom of the popcorn bowl come with the territory, but did you ever stop and wonder why these lonely few kernels of corn failed to burst into glorious popcorn? Could there be some scientific factor at play or are they just duds?


Popcorn Design

Popcorn has a very specific design that, when activated by heat, makes the corn explode into the white semi-crunchy delight we love to munch at movies. The outside of the popcorn kernel is hard enough to contain the starch and tiny bit of water inside.

Secret to the Pop

So what makes the corn pop? According to the Popcorn Board, a non-profit organization, only “13.5 to 14%” of the kernel needs to be water to get a good burst, and when that water is heated up, watch out!

Why do some Brands of Popcorn Pop Better?

Some of the better brands of popcorn have only a 4% failure rate, according to the Popcorn Board, while bargain brands can leave as much as 47% un-popped and ready to crack a tooth. Older, dried-out kernels, or kernels with cracked hulls are usually the reason why the popcorn fails to pop.

Does Popcorn go Stale?

Popcorn does go stale, and kernels that have been stored in open packages in dry air can dry out. Remember, it’s the moisture content in the corn that makes the bang, so storing popcorn in a sealed container will prevent it from drying out.

Agitation can Speed Along the Popping

If you have ever spent a few minutes standing at the stove or over an open fire shaking your pan of popcorn, you will be pleased to know that you were not completely wasting your time. Agitation does speed up the process a little, nudging those husks into action as the moisture inside heats things up.

Live to Pop Another Day

You can bring old maids back to “life” by re-hydrating them. Fill a large jar two thirds full with un-popped kernels, add a spoonful of water, put the lid on tight and shake. Let them sit for a few days to absorb the moisture, then cook as usual.