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Bang Corn

Statistically sorted popcorn
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Microwave popcorn is so convenient. But in many ways, it is inferior in quality to corn popped by different methods. By far, the biggest complaint about microwave popcorn is the tendency for it to burn. Bang corn is a proposed solution to that problem.

First, some background must be presented. A theory as to why microwave popcorn burns is as follows: as each kernel is heated, the small amount of moisture inside builds pressure until the starchy innards of the kernel erupt, revealing the tasty fluffiness within. The moisture escapes as steam. This small amount of steam cools the already popped kernels, preventing them (and any buttery flavourant) from burning. Since all the kernels are different, and contain a different amount of moisture, each takes a different amount of time to pop. As you approach the waning end of the popping curve, there is not a sufficient amount of steam in the bag to prevent an acrid, carbonized result. You could set the microwave timer for less time, but then we are all outraged at the number of kernels remaining unpopped. Where is the value?

Bang corn is different, in that each bag of popcorn has been sorted to contain kernels that will all pop at more or less the same time (within a window of about 10 seconds). The consumer will definitely know when the popping is done, (hence the idea's name) and will then halt any further cooking.

The process for making Bang corn is simple. The corn is processed in the normal way (whatever that is). Just prior to packaging, the corn is sorted by some criteria that would determine popping time. Experimentation would determine the optimal criteria. One possibility would be to sort by size, then by weight. The “half-split” rule would be employed repeatedly, until the proper number of grades is achieved. The end result would be a number of different "grades" of corn, each with a slightly different mean popping time. Each bag delivered to the consumer would contain a single grade of corn which would result in a perfect bag each time: no burning, and a minimal amount of unpopped kernels.
xrayTed, Aug 01 2002

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       Might want to make sure your bag can handle all the kernels popping at once. Though catastrophic failure might be interesting, too.
phoenix, Aug 01 2002
  

       A few simple sifters at the factory to sort kernels by size is a great start to a relatively inexpensive way to solve this problem. (I'm not sure how sorting by weight might work, though, since weighing each morsel doesn't sound feasible.) If it works, microwave popcorn companies can sell small, medium, and large sizes if the size difference is significant.   

       The bang would probably not be like a bomb, since there would still be a period of popping extended over 10 seconds or so, so no worries there unless factories get too stringent with their size filters or something.   

       Croissant.
XSarenkaX, Aug 01 2002
  

       I imagine sifting through gradients of screens (3 - 6), to initially sort by size. From there, the kernels are funnelled into single-line (more or less) queues. A measured puff of air shoots the kernel into one of several possible bins/chutes. Being of similar size, the weight difference at this point would be largely due to the amount of moisture inside (or so the theory goes). The lighter kernels would travel further, into the "lighter kernel" bins/chutes. At this point you would have kernels sorted by size, then by weight.
xrayTed, Aug 01 2002
  

       Wow, I'm impressed!
XSarenkaX, Aug 01 2002
  

       What engineers and scientists do in our spare time...   

       Q: Is there a Weibull curve that would approximate the standard popcorn bag popping cycle?
RayfordSteele, Aug 01 2002
  

       My guess is that the standard popcorn bag popping cycle would be a normal distribution, i.e. bell curvy. The effect of grading the kernels would be to "squish" the curve together, and minimize the lower and upper percentiles, eliminating the frustrating last few pops.
xrayTed, Aug 02 2002
  

       An interesting idea but it would be prohibitively expensive to sort corn kernels by wieght or size. The industry has little impetus to do this as the "problem" is just not wide spread enough to warrant action. Most people would not pay more for pocorn that pops perfectly instead of popcorn that pops almost perfectly.   

       In my personal experience this has never even been a problem. You just need to get a better microwave. The popcorn timer on my microwave works perfectly and results in popcorn with only about 10-15 unpopped kernels per bag. The probelm is with the microwaves and the fact that they are not standardized with regards to heating power. So you have to guess the correct popping time for your microwave. Not really a problem for newer microwaves.
blacksect, Aug 02 2002
  

       If you were to shake or stir a large container of kernels, how much natural sorting of size would take place? Would that be a cheap, effective sizing means? And I'm voting for more of a chi^2 distribution.
RayfordSteele, Aug 02 2002
  

       Pop Secret HomeStyle comes closest to this ideal in terms of minimum of *old maids*, timing and flavor retention in an independent study conducted by my elf. I must point out though - the popcorn industry, in it's eternal quest for our dollars, continually strives for this ideal, for all intents and porpoises.
thumbwax, Aug 02 2002
  

       I would think that to accomodate the <big bang> of the simultaneous popping it would be advisable to inflate the bag before inserting it into the microwave. Could they include a moisture pocket inside the bag in order to create a cloud of steam to inflate the bag before popping occurs? And am I the only one who thinks this should be marketed by Wham-O Toys?
Canuck, Aug 02 2002
  

       Since I am officially on vacation, I will annotate in a single stream: the folded paper bag is an ideal format for dry, expanding food - it is a compact storage format and it becomes a handy serving bowl heat source is a common denominator (being common to all kernels and is not an issue everybody wants better popcorn if you sort anything I'll tell you how "natural" it is (if you define "natural") chi^2 is soooo '87 and elfs dont know shit about popcorn...
xrayTed, Aug 02 2002
  

       You simply need a special popcorn microwave which uses highly focussed beams to cook each kernel individually. It could use complex statistical algorithms and a varying beam size to cook sections of the pack in order to achieve the optimum time/poppedness trade-off.
pottedstu, Aug 02 2002
  

       I'm too lazy to look right now, but didn't we already invent a microwave-burst based popping chamber? I think it was part of the popcorn gun idea (see top of page). I think that pretty much eliminates the need for specially sorted kernels.
BigBrother, Aug 02 2002
  

       [blacksect]: I would imagine that any particular "whole" food (one that does not undergo a large degree of processing) is subject to a certain degree of sorting. That is to say there is currently machinery in place that sorts, and a corresponding maintenance/replacement budget. If you couple this with a marketing plan, e.g. improved popping regardless of microwave power, fewer unpopped kernels, etc. it is not prohibitive. I have a relatively inexpensive microwave that works well - except on popcorn. I am not about to buy a special microwave for popcorn, but I would switch brands of popcorn.
  

       Judging by the range of available microwaves available, I would guess that 25% - 35% of microwave owners are in the same boat. It may be a minority, but it is still significant.
xrayTed, Aug 07 2002
  

       in my house, we find it far more efficient to pop corn in a saucepan. it takes just as little supervision, and if you use a good aluminium base pan, the heat in the pan reacts quickly to being switched on and off, thus no over-cooking/burning. popping corn is also reeeeeally cheap, and doesn't have fat/sugars added, so you get a minimal calorie snack to exactly the taste you want.
What would be reasonably useful is a simple weight-shaking or sieve arrangement so that when we tip out the cooked popcorn into bags and tupperware boxes before leaving for the cinema (yes, we're that stingey!) we don't take the un-popped kernels, because blind/absent-minded munching of popcorn often results in inadvertent unpopped kernal crackage. <<powerpuff girls>>: 'Cuurrses!'
sappho, Aug 07 2002
  

       Ok so maybe it is cheap to sort corn...But i think that the differences in size and weight we are talking about here are minute. It is virtually impossible to sort out kernels that differ in size by thousandths of an inch. How do you ensure that they are all perfectly round and not slightly elliptical? Most importantly, how do you ensure that millions of kernels all have the same moisture content? You can't really. The air puff idea was good but shooting kernels one by one would add days to the production cycle. Also who is to say that the kernels would dry out evenly after being sorted like this?   

       I think that if the industry was really that concerned with this they would selctively breed(or genitcally modify) corn that has perfectly uniform kernels. This would be far cheaper and a hell of a lot less complicated production wise.   

       I'm not trying to be a troll or anything but I just don't see this working economically without GM corn.
blacksect, Aug 07 2002
  

       Why don't you just microwave each kernel seperately?
Mayfly, Aug 07 2002
  

       If it's going to be GM corn, could you genetically modify it to have built in butter flavor?
BinaryCookies, Aug 07 2002
  

       I know this is a touchy subject, but GM* might be the answer. Surely we could breed corn for liquid content, poppability (scientific term) and flavour?   

         

         

         

       *Not General Motors, dummy, Genetic Manipulation!
thelumberjack, Aug 08 2002
  

       I got the wrong idea from this idea, and then posted it....   

       But anyway this is a kick-booty idea.
polartomato, Aug 08 2002
  

       In a physical sorting system there would be a trade-off between precision and cost. Your sorting goal would be to be able to accurately predict a "popping window". Various schemes would be tried (such as the one proposed). The final choice would be an acceptable compromise, e.g. "it will cost $350k to reach 99% of the target, but only $75k to reach 95%" (using different approaches).
  

       To maintain production cycle time, you would include multiple sorters and multiple air-jets. You would also have to anticipate increased production due to increased market share, not to mention new furniture (and massage table) for your new corner office.
  

       There are many sorting methods: the one proposed was more or less off-the-cuff. Finding a sorting method that actually works would really belong on threequarterbakery.com.
  

       Genetically modified corn (and/or cloning) might work, but it would be unattractive due to the controversial nature of both. Anything controversial would limit your target market, and tighten your feasibility parameters.
xrayTed, Aug 09 2002
  

       While I am all for ideas and inventions I must say that the real trick to getting perfect popcorn out of the microwave is to stop it before you think it is done. A difference of only a few seconds makes all the difference between perfect and burned. As soon as the crescendo of popping slows listen for the moment when you can j-u-s-t distinguish individual pops and stop the oven right there. You will be rewarded. It helps to use high quality popcorn. My current favorite is Redenbachers Corn on the Cob.
gen1000, Aug 09 2002
  

       I may be going off half-popped here, but I just had a thought whilst waiting for a bag of popcorn in the microwave: if the makers of the popcorn were to put an exact quantity of kernels in each package (+/- reasonable margin of error) why couldn't microwave ovens be equipped with an audio sensor to count the pops and shut off when a goodly portion (say, 95%) of the kernels had popped? That should get your desired two-fold result - maximum poppage with minimum burning.
Canuck, Sep 19 2002
  

       The reason mw popcorn burns is that the popped corn continues to be microwaved after the moisture has dissapated. By narrowing the range in which corn in the bag pops, you are decreasing the margin for error in microwave timing, and increasing the probability of burning your popped corn. Fishbone.
newj54, Feb 05 2003
  

       For a proper bang, would ammonium nitrate flavoring work? Can't help the burning, though.
FloridaManatee, Feb 06 2003
  

       [newj54]: once the popcorn "goes off", you have near maximum moisture available in the bag. The obvious audible warning alerts you that the popcorn is done; you should have ample time to turn off the mw before the moisture dissipates (in theory...).
xrayTed, Mar 04 2003
  

       (Stuff, clunk, twist, HmmmmmmmmmmmmPOWPOWPOW!!!) BUNZ!
elhigh, Jun 24 2005
  
      
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