The world's most frugal snack
A quart of popcorn costs less than a dime. But don't limit yourself to butter and salt. Chipotle-lime corn, anyone?
Last week at an ethnic market I found a 4-pound bag of popcorn on sale for $3.69 (normally it's $3.99). That's less than 8 cents per ounce, and an ounce of kernels pops up into a quart of corn.
By itself, popcorn is low in calories: 31 per cup for air-popped and up to 55 calories if oil-popped (more on that in a minute). You can keep it low-cal by going easy on the butter and flavoring it instead with items like garam masala, dill, Italian herbs or onion powder.
Let's see: cheap, reasonably healthy and easy to make. Why do so many people buy popcorn only at the movies, where it costs a lot more?
Maybe they think popcorn is hard to make. It isn't. (Post continues after video.)
Use a vented pan or a pan with a loose-fitting lid, lest moisture drip back down on the corn. I keep the lid slightly tilted so more steam can escape. Sometimes I get hit by an escaping kernel, though.
Old Bay or dilly lemon?
An industry group called the Popcorn Board suggests using one-third of a cup of oil for each cup of kernels. Personally, I cook a quarter-cup of kernels at a time and use just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Thus I don't know exactly how many calories the corn contains.
Nor do I know how much the oil adds to the cost. I'm betting I'm getting a quart of corn for less than a dime, though.
The industry group's website offers lots of popcorn recipes, such as Bombay Popcorn, Cheesy Popcorn (actually made with nutritional yeast, so it's vegan-friendly), Dilly Lemon Munch, Bacon and Cheese Popcorn, Black Sesame Mustard Popcorn and Chipotle Lime Snack Mix.
I've heard other flavor suggestions, including garlic salt, Old Bay Seasoning, cinnamon and sugar, seasoned salt and the orange powder from the mac 'n' cheese box.
Lately I've been using "popcorn salt," also from the ethnic market (99 cents) -- finely ground salt with imitation butter flavor. It's probably not very good for me, but it makes the snack taste like movie corn.
A few tips, courtesy of the Popcorn Board:
- Mix popped corn with chopped dried fruit.
- Use popcorn instead of croutons on salad or soup.
- Don't salt the product until it's cooked.
- Try seasonings instead of salt. (I’m on it. Dilly Lemon, here I come.)
More on MSN Money:
I love, love, LOVE popcorn! I received a micro popper for Christmas (per my request for our Secret Santa drawing).
And, there was a recent article online about how the antioxidants in popcorn give veggies a run for their money. It's a win-win.
When popping it on the stove, like Donna, I also use just enough oil to coat the bottom of the cast iron skillet for 1/3 cup not yet popped corn.
Try it with shredded cheddar sometime. Delish!
CLEARLY THE BEST WAY TO MAKE WONDERFUL HOMEMADE POPCORN IS BY USING
AN OLD PRESSURE SANS THE RUBBER AND JIGGLER ON THE TOP. BOTH STEAM AND MOISTURE EASILY LEAVING ONLY DELICIOUS, FLUFFY ,COMPLETELY POPPED CORN.
WELL THAT IS IF YOU USE ORVILLE REDDENBACHERS ORIGINAL POPPING CORN.
I have a Stir Crazy popper, which I love. It says to use only oil, but I have used a bit of butter with the oil, and sometimes a few dashes of hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco) with the oil. The popper has a non-stick surface, so it cleans up well. My very favorite seasoning is a little bit of Molly McButter and a seasoning called Spike. (It has a version with salt, and a version without. I usually buy the kind without, I figure I can always add my own salt if I want.)
No need for a micriwave popper...just use a brown paper bag. Use about 1/3 c of pop corn, fold the top twice (don't staple or tape) put in the microwave upright and run untial popping slows to a couple per second.
Search google for how to use a paper bag if you think you need more info.
Sometimes we'll add flavorings - curry or spicy cheese etc. but usually just pour on a little butter after putting it in bowls. Instead of salt I add a handful of mini pretzels or pretzel sticks, gives just enough saltiness for my taste. My husband likes toffee peanuts in his!
If you're not familiar with the Swagbucks rewards program, see this Frugal Cool post on the subject:
Thanks to everyone for commenting, and for reading Frugal Cool.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.
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Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
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VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
Casual dining restaurant chains have jumped on the happy hour train with deals on drinks and snacks -- maybe enough for dinner.