Most of us rely on air poppers or microwave ovens to make a delicious popcorn snack. but infrared cooking offers according to a another viable alternative September sheet published in the journal ACS Food Science and Technology.
Popcorn is the only grain in the corn family that bursts open when exposed to heat – especially at temperatures above 180 °C. This has a lot to do with the structure of the grains. Each has a tough outer covering called the pericarp, which contains the germ (seed embryo) and endosperm. The latter contains trapped water (popcorn kernels require about 14 percent water to pop) and starch granules.
As the core heats up, the water in the endosperm turns into superheated steam, increasing the pressure in the pericarp. When that pressure gets high enough, the pod ruptures, releasing the steam and starch in a foam that then cools and solidifies into the snack we know and love. A popped nucleus is 20 to 50 times larger than the original nucleus.
Last year, Mahdi Shavandi and his co-authors from the Iran Research Organization for Science and Technology in Tehran successfully demonstrated the proof of principle for their approach to making popcorn using infrared heat. With this method, a heat source such as fire, gas, or energy waves is in direct contact with the food rather than a heating element such as a pan or grill. It is often compared to grilling or cooking food over a campfire. Fans argue that this method is fast, very energy efficient and environmentally friendly compared to more conventional heating methods.
According to the authors, it is already being used for purposes such as heating, drying, frying, boiling, baking and even microbial decontamination. And infrared grills are becoming increasingly popular. But could you use infrared cooking to make popcorn with all the desirable attributes we know and love, and convince us to switch from our beloved microwaveable brands? Shavandi et al. thought it was possible.
They placed popcorn kernels harvested in Iran during the 2019-2020 season in a Pyrex Petri dish with some oil in a stainless steel chamber equipped with two infrared lamps and a power supply. The chamber rotated, holding the corn kernels close to the infrared lamps. The popcorn was then popped with all unpopped samples removed. The scientists measured the yields and took SEM images of the popcorn to better see the structure. They found that the highest bang output (100 percent) and volume expansion occurred at 550 W IR power with the samples 10 cm from the lamps.
But would consumers like it? This latest paper continues that proof-of-principle to examine more closely how the continuous infrared cooking process affects key characteristics of popcorn: color, shape, smell, taste, and texture (which is affected by how much the popcorn expands). All of this adds to the sensory delights of popcorn. They used the same prototype infrared popcorn as before for their experiments, testing power levels of 600, 700, and 800 W. Then, a sensory panel of taste testers rated the final products on a scale of 1 to 5.
The team found that using 700W of power provided the highest yield of fully or half-puffed popcorn. This level of performance also resulted in the highest scores (4 or higher) by the sensory panel, which identified these batches as having the best colour, flavor and firmness. “This is the first study of continuous infrared expansion technology for popcorn popping and the results show that IR expansion method is very efficient in popcorn popping process,” the authors concluded. So maybe our kitchen gadgets will include an infrared popcorn popper in the near future.
DOI: ACS Food Science and Technology, 2022. 10.1021/acsfoodscitech.2c00188 (About DOIs).
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