What makes corn pop and is it possible to microwave any other type of food into the form of pop-something just like sweetcorn?

  • 24
    The corn that you pop is not sweetcorn.
    – The Photon
    Jul 4, 2021 at 18:48
  • 1
    Also, puffed rice and puffed wheat are both very common breakfast cereals in the US, and I've also seen them used in packaged foods from east Asia and south Asia.
    – The Photon
    Jul 4, 2021 at 18:50
  • It would be good if the title itself mentioned something about popping. A microwave is a good way to cook an ear of corn-on-the-cob, and I use a hot-air popper for popcorn, not bags of microwave popcorn. So when I see that question title, my first thought is foods that come with some kind of husk which keeps steam in so they make their own container for basically steam cooking in the microwave. Jul 6, 2021 at 7:49
  • Why is the question about "Products" and not "foods"? Jul 6, 2021 at 21:08
  • @ThePhoton, while that's true, I've had sweetcorn in the microwave still pop, but without creating the "popcorn" look. Jul 7, 2021 at 19:28

2 Answers 2


Popcorn should be considered one of "nature's little miracles" - & a way to make a huge profit out of air.
Yes, you can pop other dried grains/seeds, but don't expect anything quite so bag-filling as maize.

Quinoa, chia, sorghum & amaranth will all pop [in a dry pan, not sure about microwave]


  • 1
    Mustard seeds too :)
    – brhans
    Jul 6, 2021 at 1:49
  • It's kind of a stretch to call it one of 'nature's little miracles'. Maize is a plant that cannot reproduce without human involvement.
    – JimmyJames
    Jul 6, 2021 at 17:21
  • 1
    It managed well enough before we got here.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 6, 2021 at 17:24
  • 1
    @Tetsujin The maize that was maize before we got here (ie: a teosinte, top) would be unrecognizable by comparison and most likely would not make pop-able kernels. It's amazing what 9000 years of human intervention can do to nature. Modern maize fails in the wild because it cannot effectively disperse its own seeds. It requires humans to do that part.
    – J...
    Jul 6, 2021 at 19:37

Popcorn doesn't pop particularly well in the microwave oven. The bag the popcorn is in has a little metal patch to make it work better. You can't just throw popcorn in the microwave and pop it. Hot air poppers and popping corn in hot oil work better.

Popcorn pops because it has a tough shell and a little spot of moisture in the center of the kernel. If you get the kernel hot enough, the water boils and flashes into steam. Steam takes up about 1700 times the volume of the water. That large increase in pressure causes the kernel to "pop." The heat and the steam cook the internal parts of the kernel while fluffing them out.

Other seeds don't have that tough shell. When you heat them, the moisture just evaporates right out – it can never pop because there's no pressure build up.

Popcorn has been bred over the years to make it pop better. Some kinds of corn (maize) naturally had the required tough shell and moisture – popcorn has been popped for hundreds if not thousands of years. Modern packaged popcorn is bred to be more consistent – it pops better and more reliably than the naturally occurring popcorn kernels.

If you want to try other popped seeds, I suggest you try popping corn in a pot with hot oil or in a hot air popper first to see how to do it. Other seeds don't come pre-packaged in the special bag that popcorn comes in for use in the microwave.

Once you can pop popcorn without burning it in a pot or hot air popper, you can try popping some of the seeds mentioned in the links of the other answer(s.)

Some seeds you may want to try:

  • Sorghum
  • Amaranth
  • Quinoa

I have not tried any of those, but they are mentioned in the linked articles.

Puffed wheat and puffed rice (as mentioned in comments to the question) are common breakfast cereals in the United States, but they are not popped like popcorn. Those puffed cereals are made by heating the grains in a sealed chamber, then suddenly releasing the pressure. The old advertisements claimed the cereals were "shot from guns." The heating chambers did rather resemble small cannons, but weren't really guns. The first minute or so of this video shows a small "puffed rice gun" in operation. It does indeed sort of resemble a small cannon.

It is possible that other seeds or grains could be puffed the same way rice and wheat are, but you'd have to have a pressure chamber to heat them in to find out.

  • 11
    You can absolutely pop regular, loose popcorn in the microwave. Ideally you want to heat the water in the popcorn, rather than transferring heat to it from the outside, and that's exactly what a microwave does. I'm not sure what "metal patch" you've seen in microwave popcorn bags -- the ones I'm familiar with are just plastic-coated paper -- but it's not required for the popping process.
    – Sneftel
    Jul 5, 2021 at 16:58
  • 14
    I strongly refute "You can't just throw popcorn in the microwave and pop it". I do exactly this all the time. I usually end up with a small amount of unpopped kernels at the bottom, but it isn't a show stopper. There are even microwave containers for exactly this purpose.
    – JBentley
    Jul 5, 2021 at 18:26
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    @Sneftel: The metal patch as described in the wikipedia page on microwave popcorn.
    – JRE
    Jul 5, 2021 at 18:40
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    How is this gathering upvotes? This is an uninformed answer. I have been popping popcorn in the microwave for years - without oil, without 'metal patches', and with a near-complete pop-success rate. Jul 6, 2021 at 11:01
  • 1
    @JasonPSallinger because it contains other useful information
    – OrangeDog
    Jul 6, 2021 at 13:17

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