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Has anyone made something that tastes similar to the (discontinued) microwave product? As a bonus question, does anyone know why they discontinued the product? I doubt that it was lack of demand. I think it was only ever available in limited parts of the US.

I make popcorn in a Stircrazy quite often so I don't have a problem with the basic technique. I add the salt to the kernels and drop it all in when the 2-3 test kernels pop.

However, I love (or used to love) the Orville Redenbacher (natural, buttery salt and ) cracked pepper microwave popcorn. When the product was discontinued I tried several techniques to reproduce the flavor and nothing has worked. Here is what I tried and the results:

1) Adding cracked black pepper to the salt and kernels before popping. While the salt sticks the black pepper mostly stays in the popper.

2) Adding oil and black pepper to the kernels and salt. I mixed it well to coat the kernels and more stuck than with method #1 but much less so than the microwave product and also the flavor wasn't as "special" as the microwave product.

3) Adding cracked pepper after it is all popped. I only added this in case someone was planning to suggest it. The pepper mostly falls off.

One thing I haven't tried is grinding the pepper to dust, like popcorn salt. But then it isn't cracked pepper.

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Never tried this, but maybe some black pepper oil? –  derobert Apr 25 at 2:39
    
It might not be dust, but some pepper grinders are adjustable (coarse/medium/fine) vs. just having a single grind size. The difference in size is quite significant. –  Joe Apr 27 at 14:33

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I doubt the cracked pepper flavor in the popcorn actually comes from cracked pepper. Food technologists tend to use extracts for flavors, and then enhance the visuals. The popcorn you like is likely flavored by some sort of pepper extract (probably oil suspended) with some cracked pepper flakes thrown in for visual effect.

You may very well be able to re-create this if you take the same approach: get the flavors working and then worry about how it looks. This makes things easier in a way, you can use whatever works to get the right flavor rather than trying to get it from one ingredient.

Pepper and chili flavors are both oil-based, and you'll have the best luck trying to get the flavor into an oil and then coating the popcorn in the oil than trying to add the flavor directly to the popcorn. Try adding your pepper dust to oil or butter and gently heating it for 20 minutes or so.

You can then try using this oil to pop your corn, this may or may not work properly as pepper tends to burn and get bitter, however if you've extracted the flavor into the oil it may work. If it does turn bitter then the oil would need to be added after the popping. Adding some cracked pepper flakes to the oil at the end ought to give you the visual effect you want as the oil will help it stick to the corn. You could add the salt to the oil or simply sprinkle it on.

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Good idea. I will try this and report back. If I had known that my last microwave bag was my last-bag-ever I would have opened it up and scraped up some (hydrogenated) oil and tasted it. –  Arbalest Apr 25 at 14:41
    
I am accepting this answer since I now agree that there must be a strong extract involved. I made pepper oil as you described, with a very fine grind from whole peppercorns. 1st batch - pepper oil alone which, at this point, was like a medium dark tea. There was a slight pepper flavor. 2nd batch - pepper oil plus a 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper-slurry from the bottom of the pan. More pepper flavor but still a far cry from the microwave product. 3rd batch - much more slurry but the result did not TASTE like much more pepper, but did start to LOOK like the microwave product. –  Arbalest Apr 28 at 18:16

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