Everyone’s favorite snack is actually a scientific example of physical change. Popcorn itself wasn’t really invented, but discovered, and might have very well been at the first Thanksgiving feast. Let’s look a little deeper into this delicious discovery!

So What Makes Popcorn Pop?

Popcorn Science

Good zea mays everta, or popcorn kernels, seem dry and firm in plain sight. But inside each kernel is a tiny droplet of water surrounded by a hard shell called a hull. Popcorn can be heated by hot oil, air, or a microwave.

The heat turns that water droplet into steam, building pressure inside the hull. Then – POP! – the hull can no longer keep in the pressure and the kernel explodes. The popping sound you hear is due to the rapid escape of water from the kernel.

Why Do Some Kernels Not Pop?

Simply put, there isn’t enough water in the kernel. A water droplet has to be present for that steam pressure to build up. Sometimes kernels are old and stale, or they become scorched during cooking.

Popcorn Science

All this popcorn talk has us hungry.

Below is a playful recipe for colorful popcorn balls to share with your hungry little scientists. As you make them, explain the science behind what makes popcorn pop. You can also teach your little ones basic color recognition with this rainbow treat!

You will need:
¾ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup marshmallows
2 teaspoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
20 cups of popped corn
Food coloring of your choice

Popcorn Science

Pop your corn any way you choose. Over the stovetop is this household’s choice, but any way will work. If you choose to microwave, 20 cups is about three bags.

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Separate your popcorn evenly into how many food coloring choices you want. Here, there are six bowls uniformly distributed in order to make a rainbow.

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Combine the corn syrup, butter, powdered sugar, marshmallows, water, vanilla, and salt together over medium-high heat. Keep the mixture moving and bring to a slow boil.

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For adults only: Carefully pour the mixture evenly into each bowl of popcorn. The mixture is very hot, so let this one to the grown-ups. Use an ice scream scoop in an effort to keep the proportions even.

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Add about 2-3 drops of food coloring to each popcorn/syrup mix.

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Stir each bowl with a clean spoon so you don’t mix colors.

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Working fast, shape the balls before the syrup mixture cools. Spray your fingers with a non-stick spray to be able to shape each ball. You can make them as big or small as you’d like! Enjoy!

Popcorn Science

HAPPY POPPING!

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