How Does a Popcorn Maker Work?

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Popcorn remains one of the most popular snacks in the world. Popcorn is served at movie theaters, sporting events, carnivals, festivals, seemingly everywhere. As popular as popcorn is, there are a number of ways it can be prepared.

Traditional Popcorn Makers

A traditional popcorn maker for commercial use isn't very complicated. Commercial popcorn makers can stand anywhere from 2 to several feet high, depending on the volume of popcorn served. The popcorn maker is usually a see-through box that contains a metal canister with a heating element inside it. Inside the canister is a layer of oil and a few hundred popcorn kernels. When the heating element is plugged in or put to the "on" position, the oil heats up to 400 to 460 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds will then begin to pop out of the metal canister and into the box, filling it up.

Hot Air?

Since the traditional way of making popcorn involves hot oil that can contain a high concentration of fat, there are alternative popcorn makers for use. The air popcorn maker is one of the more health-conscious options since it involves no oil at all. The air popcorn maker contains a heating element, a fan and an enclosed air path that vents into an open, sealed container. When the unit is powered, the fan blows air over the heating element, through the path and out the vent. On top of the vent are the popcorn kernels. Once the air is hot enough and it passes over the kernels, they pop as if they were in a traditional popcorn maker, except without the fatty oils. Although air poppers are mostly made for the home, commercial versions are starting to become more popular since they require less work and cleaning.

Other Popcorn Makers

There are other variations of popcorn makers that involve applying heat to oil. Early popcorn machines were gas-powered, while some future designers have their eyes set on solar powered popcorn makers. You can also cook popcorn in a microwave. Microwaves work well because they are only absorbed by fat, water and oils. When the oil absorbs the microwaves, the waves turn into hot atoms that heat the oil very quickly, causing the kernels to pop. This is why you can have a bag of popcorn in less than three minutes.

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