Popcorn and College Students

This topic submitted by Jen Saum, Kristen DeLap, Kirsten Skinner, Bryan Galli at 12:18 pm on 12/6/01. Additions were last made on Sunday, January 12, 2003. Section: Wagner

Kristen DeLap
Bryan Galli
Jen Saum
Kirsten Skinner

To excite students about the scientific approach to viewing the natural world, laboratory exercises that rely on personal observation such as data collection and statistical interpretation will be explored. Students are asked to 1) Count popcorn, 2) determine, through statistics, the percent of popped kernels in the bag, and 3) decide whether the stated hypothesis is true: Orville Redenbacher’s Butter is the brand and type of popcorn that pops the most kernels. However, after conducting our research the data showed that Orville Redenbacher as a whole was the most efficient popping brand. Not only is this an educational experience, but it gives students a chance to consume America’s number one snack food.

In dorms across the country, popcorn can be smelled up and down the halls every evening. College students are most likely one of the top buyers of this snack. We have decided to determine which brand and type of microwave popcorn yield the most popped kernels, in order to save college students valuable money. Popcorn is truly the best snack for college students because it is lower in fat than snacks like candy and chocolate. It can also contain less sodium than potato chips and pretzels, according to the Department of Health and Nutrition (“Popcorn Handbook”). Popcorn is relatively quick to prepare, and takes minimal effort. This is prime for students, as they can put a bag in the microwave and continue their work.
Not only is popcorn easy to prepare and healthy, it is also extremely popular among Americans. Americans consume more than 17 billion quarts of popped corn a year – about 68 quarts for each person, according to an article from USA Weekend (2001). According to the same article, popcorn’s origins can be traced back to New Mexico, more than 5,600 years ago. Popcorn differs from regular corn only because of the larger size kernels. Of the six different types of grain corn, only popcorn, a cereal grain, can be popped. This is due to a small drop of water in each kernel, surrounded by starch. When the corn is heated, the water turns to steam, and pressure builds. The kernel explodes as the starch inflates, inverting the kernel (USA Weekend 2001).
The hypothesis is that one brand and type of popcorn yields more popped kernels than other brands. Based on reputation, we believe that Orville Redenbacher Butter will yield the most popped kernels. Orville Redenbacher was the first person to manufacture popcorn in the United States, in Valparaiso, IN, therefore making his company the most knowledgeable about popcorn popping (www.popcorn.com). The Null hypothesis is that there will be no statistical difference in the number of kernels that pop between the brands tested. Through this experiment, we can educate college students on which brand pops the best, therefore saving them money.

Many different brands and types of popcorn are available on your grocer’s shelves, such as Orville Redenbacher, Pop Secret, Cousin Willie’s, and a generic grocer brand, all offered in light, regular, and butter. All of these brands claim different slogans and catch phrases in order to sway the consumer into purchasing their product. We hope to decipher which of these slogans tells the truth regarding which brand and type pops the most kernels. Our goal is to cut through possible false advertising, and educate students on which brand has the most kernel efficiency.
The prediction about popping efficiency comes from the Orville Redenbacher Company’s reputations. Orville Redenbacher claims to be the best brand because they have over 40 years of experience making popping corn under the title “gourmet.” Continuous hybrid research and development gives Redenbacher its delicious taste and superb pop-ability. Redenbacher claims to have an innovative bag that leaves fewer unpopped kernels and lighter, fluffier popcorn (Redenbacher Popcorn Box).

The purpose of this experiment was to test multiple brands and types of popcorn under the same conditions in order to determine which one statistically popped the most kernels. We planned to test the light, regular and butter varieties of Orville Redenbacher, Pop Secret, Cousin Willie’s, and Kroger brands of popcorns. Thus, there were twelve different popcorns to compare. The different bags of popcorn were popped in the same microwave for the same amount of time, three minutes and fifteen seconds. Then, the kernels left in the bag were counted, as well as the popped corn, in order to determine a ratio. Then the ratios of all the bags were compared to determine which bag yielded the most popped corn.
The entire class was involved in the experiment by gathering the data. Our group popped the bags of popcorn, to be sure to regulate all the variables, and then brought the bags to class. Each group opened the bags from one brand and counted the kernels by hand. Therefore, each group had a light, regular, and butter bag of popcorn of each brand to count. The groups returned the data sheets, and we analyzed the data. The statistical method used to analyze the data was to find a ratio between the number of kernels in the bag and the number of popped corns. To find this, the number of the actual popped corns was divided by the total number of kernels in the bag. The ratios and percents were then compared.
The class should complete the following steps while performing the popcorn lab:
1) Open one bag at a time
2) Count the number of popped kernels – Popped corns are any broken kernels
3) Count the number of unpopped kernels - Unpopped kernels constitute an intact kernel
4) Record data on data sheet
5) Calculate the percentage by dividing the number of the actual popped corns by the total number of kernels in the bag
6) Eat the popcorn

This is an example of the data sheet that each group will use to record data.
Popcorn Kernel Study Brand

Number of non popped Kernels Number of Popped Corns Total Number of Kernels % of Kernels Popped

The materials are twelve bags of popcorn and a microwave.

# of Unpopped Kernels # of Popped Corns Total # of Kernels % Popped
Kroger Light 174 461 635 72.6
Butter 59 427 486 87.9
Natural 43 510 553 92.2
Pop Secret Light 32 455 487 93.4
Butter 74 420 494 85.0
Natural 32 437 469 93.2
Cousin Willie's Light 37 457 494 92.5
Butter 38 441 479 92.0
Natural 79 442 521 84.8
Orville Redenbacher's Light 18 473 491 96.3
Butter 29 406 435 93.3
Natural 22 441 463 95.2

By averaging the percentage of kernels popped for the light, butter, and natural types of each brand, one can determine in general which brand yielded the highest percentage of popped kernels. Orville Redenbacher averaged the highest at 95.0%. Pop Secret and Cousin Willie’s averaged almost the same percentage of popped kernels with Pop Secret coming in second at 90.4% and Cousin Willie’s third at 90.3%. Only averaging 83.5%, Kroger brand had a dismal showing.

Through this lab, it was determined that Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn overall yields the most popped kernels. This proves the hypothesis wrong in that the hypothesis states butter will pop the best. It was determined that light Orville Redenbacher yielded the most through percentages. Most likely the reasoning for this is that Orville Redenbacher has been in business for the longest of the brands tested. Therefore, hypothetically, Orville Redenbacher would have the most experience with popcorn popping technology. Part of the reasoning may also be that Orville Redenbacher dedicates its entire company to popcorn. Kroger, on the other hand, has many other products that require manufacturing attention. Therefore, Orville Redenbacher commits its whole company to popcorn production, giving it greater success.
To our knowledge and the research conducted, our work is unique in that no one else has tested the popping efficiency of various brands and types of popcorn. However, we feel that this experiment is very beneficial to college students and all popcorn consumers. Not only does the experiment show which brand and type pops most efficiently, it also cuts through possible false advertising.
Although results were statistically computed in the experiment, and conclusions drawn, we would like to know the scientific reasoning behind the success of some kernels compared to others. Other questions have been raised regarding the microwave use; perhaps different a voltage microwave, or varying the popping time would alter the results. Since we are pioneers in this field of popcorn study, there is a multitude of opportunities for further research. Many different brands could be compared, or the experiment could be conducted on a larger scale.
In conclusion, we have found part of our hypothesis to be true, as Orville Redenbacher is the most efficient popcorn brand. However, it is to our surprise that light popcorns pops better than the butter variety.


“Don’t Know Much About Popcorn” USA Weekend: Sept. 28-30, 2001.

Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Butter Popcorn Box, Exp. Date June 2002.

Popcorn website, www.popcorn.org, accessed on September 29, 2001.

US Dept of Agriculture, “Popcorn Handbook,” Federal Crop Insurance Corporation,
Product Development Branch.

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