Popcorn is one of those extra expenses that go with movie-going. How’s a fellah gonna watch Captain America save the nation without a large tub of salty, buttery popcorn to get him through all those action scenes?
By the way, that buttery flavor we love on our popcorn likely isn’t butter. Medical studies say it’s harmful, not so much to those of us who eat it, but to popcorn-factory employees and concession-stand workers who inhale that aroma for hours at a time.
According to About.com, that buttery flavor is a chemical called diacetyl. It’s found naturally in real butter, cheese, milk, beer and wine. It causes us no problems when we eat or drink it. However, when diacetyl is isolated in a concentrated solution then vaporized in a popcorn maker or microwave, it can damage the lungs.
People who work in a factory that produces butter-flavored popcorn or concession-stand workers who pop our corn are continually exposed to diacetyl, which can deteriorate their lungs to an irreversible condition called bronchiolitis obliterans. About.com says those of us who occasionally nuke a bag of popcorn as a late-night snack probably aren’t facing any health concerns (except acid reflux from eating just before bedtime).
On the other hand, those who work in an office environment, where the smell of popcorn permeates the air every day around lunchtime, may want to step out of the office during their lunch hours.
Personally, I’m doubtful the risks are all that great. If they were, there would be incessant media reports and lawyers would be advertising their services to popcorn victims.
I’ve found only one case of this happening. According to an October 2012 article released by Huffington Post, a 59-year-old Colorado man was awarded $7.2 million from three microwave-popcorn manufacturers for “popcorn lung.”
About seven years ago, Orville Redenbacher, Act II, Pop Secret and Jolly Time claimed they were removing diacetyl from their butter-flavored popcorn. However, Huffington’s 2012 article says there’s really no way for consumers to verify they removed it because the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require manufacturers to list diacetyl as a product ingredient. And even if they did, is there evidence that whatever they switched to isn’t just as bad or worse?
I reckon if you’re a big popcorn eater, you’re eating it at your own risk, which is odd, given that so many folks now eat popcorn for its health benefits. But then, I doubt they’re eating the butter-flavored stuff. They’re eating popcorn to resist the urge to chomp down a triple-decker bacon cheeseburger dripping with ketchup, mustard and mayo.
One way I avoid the diacetyl-laced popcorn by is eating a kids’ snack called Cracker Jack. According to crackerjackcollectors.com, the 118-year-old caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts were introduced in 1896 by Luis Rueckheim. Cracker Jack was the only sweet snack Papa would let me have whenever I spent the weekend helping him on his farm in Meigs, Georgia. That’s because he enjoyed Cracker Jack as much as I did, if not more.
Despite the risk of artificially flavored varieties, popcorn’s popularity has spread beyond the theater. It’s not just for movies anymore, and I’m not just talking about using it as an edible Christmas ornament. We can enjoy popcorn any time of day while doing any activity or nothing at all.
Last year, my wife bought an old-fashioned popcorn maker that produces really great popcorn. To avoid diacetyl, she melts a stick of real butter in a pan and then drizzles it over our still-steaming, freshly popped and lightly salted corn. The butter? Well, it’s healthier than diacetyl.
Watching Bugs Bunny, Road Runner or Droopy cartoons with my grandkids is so much butter — I mean, better — now. It’s hard to find a kid who doesn’t like popcorn. Some of it makes it to their mouths, though most ends up between the couch seats or on the floor.
Yeah, I know eating popcorn while watching cartoons is sorta like the original use of popcorn, but it’s much cheaper than the movie theater stuff. And I can pause the DVD and go back for seconds without missing anything.
Email Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.