Making the most of air popped corn

Whether you own a high-end workhorse like the RoboPop Vortex popcorn machines, or something more modest, there are a few essential practices that will enable you to get most out of air popping corn.

Quality In - Quality Out

As can be said when using any popper, buying high quality popcorn seed and storing in properly is of the utmost importance.  Regardless of what you're making (ready-to-eat, savory seasonings, cheese coated or caramelized) the popcorn itself is the essential ingredient, yet also usually the least expensive part of the process.


Beyond that, with air popped kernels, the importance of adequate ventilation and humidity control are hard to over state. These factors are of course important with oil fried corn as well. The difference is that with fried popped corn, the product is already saturated with oil, which in a sense helps prevent soaking up moisture from the surrounding air, or at least makes any additional moisture a bit less noticeable.

The advantage to air popping is that you get a lighter and fluffier popcorn with a delicate crisp.  The potential risk is that with all of the moisture removed, it is very susceptible to quickly absorbing moisture from the surrounding air.

The first step in controlling this issue is having adequate exhaust ventilation directly above any air popper, ideally positioned where the popcorn is ejected.  If you don't immediately get that moisture out of the room, it's going to very quickly raise humidity levels and then start being absorbed back into your popcorn.

Removing Moisture

Ventilation can remove the moisture being added by popping kernels at a high rate, but if the humidity level in your production room is already too high to start with, then you're going to need to add dehumidifiers into the equation.  Whether you do that with central air circulation or just portable units, your goal should be the keep the humidity level as low as possible.  Ideally the relative humidity should be less than 25% but if you can't, remember that lower is always better.

Protect Your Seed 

Obviously, you want to make sure you store your seed according to the manufacture's recommendations, which can vary on the seed and packaging. A simple mistake we find in many production rooms is placing bags of seed on top of poppers, keeping them ready to add to the seed hoppers. 

The problem is the top of the popper can get quite hot, and leaving seed on top, even for just 15 or 20 minutes can result in drying out the seed prior to popping.  Remember that most seed starts with 12% to 13% water content, and quickly expanding that water into steam is what creates the popping of kernels in the first place.  

If your seed is stored in a colder location, make sure to allow it to warm up to room temperature prior to popping. The best way to do this is to simply bring it into the popping facility a few hours prior to production so it can gradually warm up without the risk of drying out the seed itself.

Storing Popped Corn

Because popping corn is an exceptionally fast and productive process, it's not at all unusual to pop only on certain days of the week making what you need for processing, flavoring and/or caramelizing for several days to come. Well stored popcorn can stay crisp and fresh for weeks, or even months.  This is especially true for air popped corn because there's no oil involved that not only saturates the corn but that is of course susceptible to oxidizing with time.

Simply put, make sure your popcorn is stored in proper air-tight containers or very thick. and preferably multi-layered, bulk food service bags and also in a room where temperature and humidity are both well managed.


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