Back in my teenage years when I worked in a movie theater we popped fresh popcorn all day long. At the end of each shift, the machines were cleaned and readied for the next day and any leftover popcorn was up for grabs. I used to bring it home in huge plastic bags. It was really high-quality popcorn, prepared using quality peanut oil and the amount of specialty popcorn salt was precisely measured for each batch. We would sell it in small, medium or large buckets and we would add “popcorn topping” upon request. We were not allowed to offer “butter” because we didn’t have any to sell. If customers asked for butter, we were supposed to tell them in no uncertain terms that the liquid we served atop our buckets of popcorn was not, by any means, a dairy product. Most people didn’t really care.
Like many others my age, when I went off to college the only kitchen appliance that I insisted on having for my room in the dorm was a Hot Air Popcorn Popper. Anyone who’s ever eaten popcorn prepared in one of these contraptions knows that the resulting foodstuff is far from a tasty treat. Sure, it was a more healthy choice (basically, because there was very little oil) but it was more of a novelty than a treat. Later, I was introduced to the magic of the microwave. Early on, we would put plain popcorn kernels in a paper lunch bag and carefully heat them in the microwave. It was a dangerous proposition (the bags could catch fire) that resulted in similar tasteless and dry popcorn that was difficult to enjoy.
But then science brought us Microwave Popcorn … specifically designed to be prepared using a microwave oven … and life was good. Eventually, it was made available to consumers in varying flavors including “Movie Theater Butter”.
And life was good.
Until, a recent study at the University of Minnesota concluded that the flavoring used in butter-flavored microwave popcorn may trigger Alzheimer’s disease. Apparently, the ingredients cause proteins to clump together in the brain which is an indicator of the disease.
Fortunately, popcorn can still be a perfectly healthy snack food because the hulls are said to contain more antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables. Of course cooking popcorn in oil, soaking it in butter and pouring on salt quickly cancels its nutritional benefits. So, at the end of the day, the healthiest way to eat popcorn is still air-popped. I wonder if Hot Air Popcorn Poppers will be making a comeback any time soon.
We knew what we were selling back then wasn’t butter, and we knew that being honest about it was the right thing to do, but we certainly didn’t know we were selling something that could cause a problem. It sure did
taste yummy. The next time you go to the movies, make a mental not to see if anyone there refers to the popcorn topping as “butter”. I bet they don’t.
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