Popcorn Bag Dissection

I want to warn you on this one, it’s going to get geeky fast.  Like we said in an earlier post, the bag is a big challenge for us.

I wanted to pull apart a popcorn bag to see what makes it tick.  It seems crazy but the bag is really an engineered system that is optimized for popping popcorn under the influence of microwave energy.  A brown paper bag works just fine but somehow the modern microwave popcorn bag has become pretty complex.

The Design:

The industry lingo for this bag is a gusseted pinched end bag.  Not to be confused with a double gusset flat bottom bag or a…  Are you yawning yet?


The contents:

The popcorn kernels rest on top of the susceptor (info below) in a solid cake of oil and flavorings.  This everything-in-the-bag approach is really limiting.


First, the oil used must be solid at room temperature and oil that is solid at room temperature is either very high in saturated fats or hydrogenated (trans fat).  For a long time it was assumed that all saturated fats are the same and carry the same health risks.  This is why hydrogenated oils came to be.  With hydrogenated oils you can have low saturated fat oil that is solid at room temperature.  The only problem is that hydrogenated oils (trans fats) ended up being worse for you than saturated fat…

The second limitation is that the flavorings need to be able to withstand the elevated temperature of the susceptor.  Making flavors that can do this is difficult, often requires engineered ingredients, and limits what flavors can be used.  This is the reason the microwave popcorn isle is so boring.  Fake butter, or, um, fake movie theatre butter.


The susceptor:

Next time you polish off a bag of microwave popcorn take a look inside.  The dark grey rectangle on the “this side down” half of the bag is called a susceptor.  It is a metalized polymer film that absorbs microwaves and converts them into heat, lots of heat.  Normally microwaves only heat water and water can only reach 212 degrees F before it escapes as steam.  The susceptor can get much hotter and that helps reduce the number of dud kernels.  It’s a very hot plastic film that is directly adjacent to the popcorn… More good reading here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popcorn_bag

The material:

We’re all familiar with how oil and kraft paper get along. Put french fries in a brown paper bag and the oil soaks right through. Popcorn bags get around this by coating the kraft paper with a lipophobic (repels fats) chemical coating. This fluorotelomer coating is the second feature of the bag that has generated health concerns. Actually, it’s something that has been written about for years, and linked to many health issues.

In 2006 the FDA did an investigation to try to figure out why people had sizable amounts of PFOAs (Perfluorooctanoic) in their bodies.  It’s a pretty obscure chemical but somehow it was in practically everyone!  You guessed it, popcorn bags made the list.  The chemical is a known carcinogen, developmental toxicant, immune system toxicant, and liver toxicant.  It is pretty crazy/scary stuff (http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/pfoa/).




I had to see the bag working so I popped it in the microwave for 2:30…but with the top cut off the bag.  The subceptor really works!  I could see all the heat it generated in the form of bubbling oil and eventually a scorched bag.  The other thing, it made a huge friggin mess.  Once cooled, the splattered oil solidified in every crevice of my microwave. Check out the video HERE.



  1. Abby wrote:

    Thank you so much for this information! I never knew any of this, but it’s pretty scary stuff…

  2. Stove Top Popcorn « deliciousdietitianduo wrote:

    […] you’ll find tons of hard fats coating the popcorn kernals (the picture below is from: http://www.quinnsnacks.com/2010/12/popcorn-bag-dissection/.)  Those hard fats are full of saturated and trans fats – the two fats that are known to […]

  3. Carol wrote:

    I’ve always known that micro popcorn was bad, but have eaten it anyway. But a picture says a thousand words!!! They are so disgusting, I won’t have any trouble giving that junk up, especially since I’ve found a nearby store that carries your product… can’t wait to try it! Thanks so much for all of your hard work reinventing this iconic snack 🙂

  4. Daniel wrote:

    Holy Cow! Thats pretty crazy stuff!

  5. lalala wrote:


  6. Thomas wrote:

    I can’t believe what i was feeding my kids!!!!!!!

  7. naedog wrote:

    i always knew it didn’t have good oils in but hardened oil thats disgusting!

  8. » Is Microwave Popcorn Safe To Eat? wrote:

    […] in such a way to fold nicely in the box, then unfold and expand for the voluminous popped corn.  The bag is really an engineered system that is optimized for popping popcorn under the influence of microwave energy. […]

  9. SFgirl wrote:

    I love the fact that this is the only microwave popcorn that I can buy in a store whose bag does NOT have PFCs! What a great idea.

  10. Anonymous wrote:

    i like it

  11. MikeC wrote:

    I wasn’t thrilled with my kids eating MW popcorn. There’s a lot of artificial junk and fats/oils. But they love it and it’s a better snack than chips. I found this on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1GXDknn

    It works great, no mess, easy to clean. You can use oil or butter if you want, but it’s not necessary. I highly recommend it over buying bags. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper per serving.

  12. Troytex wrote:

    Yeah…I think popcorn is more science than I ever thought about…wow

    Troytex in Texas Feb 12 2016

  13. Brendan wrote:

    So I literally just happened to finish a little bag. Now is it that much worse that my favorite part about eating popcorn from the microwave is pulling apart the bag and linking off all the butter and salt? Pretty sure I know the answer to that question now..

  14. sophie wrote:

    this sucks

  15. apryl wrote:

    I read this as I was eating a bag of popcorn. Welp. I’m not concerned since this is an every blue moon type of treat. its good to know what I’m consuming, though.