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Some day soon we might be making popcorn with infrared poppers

It’s fast, energy efficient, environmentally friendly compared to conventional heating

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Enlarge / In the future, our kitchen gadgets might include an infrared popcorn popper.

There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2022, each day from December 25 through January 5. Today: Researchers figured out how to make tasty popcorn with infrared cooking.

Most of us rely on counter-top air poppers or microwaves to whip up a tasty popcorn snack. But infrared cooking offers another viable alternative, according to a September paper published in the journal ACS Food Science and Technology.

Popcorn is the only grain in the corn family that pops in response to the application of heat—specifically, temperatures above 180° C. It has a lot to do with the structure of the kernels. Each has a tough outer shell, called the pericarp, within which lies the germ (seed embryo) and the endosperm. The latter holds trapped water (popcorn kernels need about 14 percent water to pop) and starch granules.

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