Just before Christmas, I received an email from a long-time customer with a question… a question that we've been asked many times. The question was about Dakota Black Pop popcorn. The email started out like this:
“Probably a dumb question, however, last year I grew the Dakota Black Pop popcorn and it popped beautifully— this year not so great. Wondering if you might know why? When I try popping it, it just explodes or doesn’t pop at all. Tried finding an answer out online I couldn’t find anything on the matter… I hate to waste it.”
NO! You do NOT want to waste it— that’s for sure! AND it's not a dumb question at all! We’ve all had that experience… you get to the bottom of the bowl and find yourself picking through those ‘old maids’. Some bowls… more than others! When you’re growing your own Dakota Black Pop, you don’t want to waste a kernel on ‘old maids!'
Moisture content is the critical factor in whether popcorn will pop or not. If your popcorn does not pop well— it is either too dry or too wet. Research has found (yes, there is actual research on this topic) that 13.5% moisture is best for oil popping and 14% is best for use in an air-popper.
The reason is very simple. The popcorn needs a certain amount of steam to burst the hull and explode into popcorn. The outer hull acts like a pressure cooker; holding until the kernel reaches sufficient pressure to fully pop the starches inside. Many gardeners have discovered when they thoroughly dry their corn, and try to pop it later, they have the same experience our customer was emailing us about! Yes, you want to dry the popcorn down enough to easily shell it off the cob and for optimal storage. However, it has to have enough humidity in it to properly pop.
On the flip side— it can’t have too much moisture, which runs the risk of mold and softens the hull. The hull needs to be hard enough to allow the pressure inside to build up and explode with sufficient force to produce fluffy popcorn. Too wet and the hull will explode prematurely, like a dud, and the starches will not 'pop' into a fluffy ball!
If you experience a lot of old maids, ask yourself: Did the popcorn rub off the cobs easily, or were the kernels difficult to remove? Easily means it was dry; difficult means it has not dried down enough. Popcorn is ready to shell when the kernels easily come off the cob (perfect) but are not falling off on their own (too dry). That sweet spot, easily coming off but not 'falling' off, by happy coincidence... is when the moisture content is around 13 to 14 percent, the optimal level for popping! If you are unsure if the popcorn is dry enough to shell, you can simply test pop a few kernels.
If you are getting a lot of old maids and cannot tell if your popcorn is too wet or too dry, trying soaking a small amount in water for 2-3 minutes, pat it dry with a dish towel and then try to pop it to see if that helps. If it makes it worse— you can guess it is too wet.
If it pops better as a result, open the container and place in a more humid environment where it can absorb some moisture from the air. Another strategy is to place 3 cups of popcorn in a quart jar and add 2 teaspoons of water. Put the lid on and shake it to distribute the water to all the kernels. Let it rest. If water pools in the bottom of the jar, shake it again every few minutes until enough of the water has been absorbed to prevent pooling. Let it sit in a cool place in the covered quart jar for a few hours to distribute the moisture evenly. Then test the pop.
If you find your popcorn is too wet, place it in front of a dehumidifier, in a food dehydrator at 140F, or in a warm oven at its lowest setting with the door open, so moisture can easily escape. Test occasionally for optimal pop.
When you have optimized the pop, store your popcorn in an airtight plastic or glass container in a cool, dry place. If your container is less than airtight, avoid storing in a warm location or in the refrigerator, which can dry out the kernels. Most refrigerators have a defrost system that will dehydrate. A moisture loss of 1-3% percent will produce old maids.
As the popcorn stores and you open and close the container during use, the moisture level may decline below the optimal moisture level and you may start to get lots of old maids again. It is not that the popcorn is ‘old’; it is just too dry. Use the remedies suggested above.
Does all this talk of popcorn make you hungry? Never tried growing your own popcorn? You are missing out! Let us gift you with a packet of Dakota Black Pop! Try it—its on us with a purchase of 5 or more seed packets of your choice. Simply include Dakota Black Pop in your selections (6 packets total) and use the coupon code ‘POPPING’ during the checkout process and your popcorn is FREE. Our gift to you!
Happy New Year! Here’s to more POP in 2020!!
Our best to you,
Theresa & Dan