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Taste Kitchen: Light Microwave Popcorn
Search for kernels of truth leads to overall sense of dissatisfaction

December 20, 2006

It used to be so simple. There was a jar of kernels, a little oil, and a pot with a cover. Shake vigorously over a burner, add a little melted butter, a sprinkle of salt, and you had something wonderful.

Then came the air popper, which blew dry popped corn into a bowl -- or all over the floor. The hot air on top allowed you to melt butter as the machine did its magic.

Microwave popcorn changed everything. Enclosed in a flat paper bag are kernels, flavorings, and spices. But go shopping for microwave popcorn and your head spins: Butter, light butter, butter flavor, real butter, and much more.

With the holidays coming and families set to gather around to watch DVD s and eat big bowls of snacks, we decided to test light butter-flavor popcorn. Then real confusion settled in. Serving sizes are anywhere from 3 to 6 cups, nutrition facts are difficult to navigate, even the smell of the bags varied. Some had no odor, one had the aroma of "chemical butter," as one of the eight participants put it, some whiffed of oil and one smelled just plain bad.

We used a microwave that had a popcorn setting (technology!) at 2 minutes and 5 seconds (perfect kernels) and when the bell went off the digital read-out said "Enjoy!" Participants sipped club soda as a palate cleanser. The winner was Pop Secret, which is made with some real butter. "Just when I was about to give up, this one has at least a bit of flavor," wrote one muncher. The runner - up was Jolly Time, described as "nicely, lightly salted but not bland." The hands - down loser was Newman's Own, which elicited the most vicious comments. One taster decided to go looking for an old-fashioned pot with a tight - fitting lid. -- DEBRA SAMUELS

(John Tlumacki)
 
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