There’s nothing quite like microwave popcorn to turn your comfortable living room into a makeshift movie theatre. Just pop a bag into the microwave, and within minutes you have a buttery salty snack in your lap. But microwave popcorn appears to be in jeopardy as one of the many food products now targeted by the new ban on trans fat proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
What may be unfortunate news for some popcorn-lovers — but good news for health experts hoping to curb heart disease risks — the FDA plans to ban trans fat from food products, according to a recent announcement. Microwave popcorn is one major product subject to the pending regulation, since all your favorite butter-licious brands like Pop Secret and Jolly Time manufacture their easy-to-make popcorn with trans fat. Microwave popcorn makers may have to learn how to re-develop their products without the cholesterol-building ingredient that has helped tie the taste and texture of their popcorn together.
The FDA announcement to ban trans fat isn’t the first red flag about this particular ingredient. For years, scientists and medical experts have warned about the risks of trans fatty acids, which are created industrially by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils with the aim of making them more solid, and thus less oily. Trans fats are also known as partially hydrogenated oils. According to the American Heart Association, restaurants and companies use trans fats because the ingredient is inexpensive and convenient. Trans fat products last a long time, make foods tasty, and are often used to deep-fry foods. But since the health risks of trans fats have become more publicized, many food companies and restaurants have removed the use of trans fats from their products.
A Difficult Road For Popcorn Makers?
But the question on the minds of many: will our favorite popcorn snacks survive the FDA ban?
For years microwave popcorn makers have used partially hydrogenated oils for their high melting point. Trans fats are able to keep solid until the popcorn bag is heated in the microwave, so a shelf-stored popcorn bag isn't dripping with liquid oil. Pop Secret still has about 4.5 and 5 grams of trans fat per serving.
It may be difficult to achieve, but it is possible for microwave popcorn makers to change their ways. Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn, for example, removed trans fat from its products a while ago. But the endeavor consisted of four years to research and develop a trans fat free oil, and then an additional two years to change the product line. “We’ve mastered it, and I’m not going to tell you how we did it,” Pamela Newell, senior director of product development at ConAgra, told Reuters. She mentioned it was an expensive process.
But if popcorn makers choose to go down the healthy route, their sales could possibly grow. Since the health risks of trans fat have been publicized in 2005, consumers have been searching for healthier alternatives for most products, leading to a decrease in the use of trans fat. According to ConAgra’s consumer food annual report, the manufacturer's food sales rose by 8 percent in 2013, partially due to Redenbacher’s improvements. Food manufacturers have 60 days to comment on the FDA proposal, and to estimate how long it will take for them to re-develop their products. Other popular foods that contain trans fat include doughnuts, frozen pizza, coffee creamers, and canned frosting.
Homemade Stove Top Popcorn
Now that we know trans fats are bad enough for the FDA to ban them, there are plenty of healthy alternatives to microwave popcorn. It’s much cheaper and just as easy to purchase plain popcorn kernels from the store and cook them on the stovetop with just a little bit of olive oil.
Popcorn itself, before the additives, is already quite healthy. it’s full of fiber and antioxidants, and if you cook it plain on the stove top without drenching it in salt and butter, you have a highly healthy snack. All you need is extra-virgin olive oil, one-fourth of a cup of popcorn kernels, a sprinkle of salt, and in five minutes you have a fiber-filled snack without the artificial flavoring, high sodium, and trans fats in the packaged kind. You can experiment with different flavors by adding spices or seasoning such as cumin, cinnamon, garlic powder, or even Old Bay seasoning.
“Stovetop popcorn … tastes good in the way that real food tastes good,” Gilad Edelman writes on Slate.