I've always had a fear of eating popcorn. The idea of breaking my tooth on a popcorn kernel is terrifying, the thought of getting a kernel shard lodged between my teeth or gums makes me squeamish, and I cringe at the possibility of chomping on a burnt piece. I suspect this all stems from some badly-made Jiffy Pop that my mom would serve up as a kid. It's not a debilitating fear or anything, I just avoid eating popcorn.

I don't really talk about my popcorn-phobia, so I can't really blame my brother-in-law for getting me a subscription to a "popcorn of the month" club for Christmas. But that said, I'll be soon stuck with bags and bags of popcorn. I could offload these to my co-workers, but instead I've decided to overcome my fear of popcorn as one of my New Year's resolutions.

It's been a solid few decades since I've tried popcorn, so I'm taking some baby steps and any tips would be appreciated. Specifically, my questions are:

How do you avoid breaking your teeth? Does shaking the bag force loose kernels to the bottom? Is there a type of popcorn that doesn't "shard" as bad?

  • 3
    Grab a tennis racket and a big bowl and use the racket like a sieve :) Dec 28, 2011 at 9:10
  • 6
    Don't stuff as much popcorn in your mouth as it will hold. Eat the kernels one by one, picking each with your fingers. You'll notice if you've grabbed an unpopped kernel.
    – rumtscho
    Dec 28, 2011 at 12:31
  • 1
    Is the popcorn you're going to be receiving already popped, or are they bags of unpopped kernels? That detail is important for your question to be answered properly.
    – Laura
    Dec 28, 2011 at 16:04
  • And as another possibility, are they microwavable bags vs. unpopped to fill some sort of popper?
    – Joe
    Jan 23, 2013 at 16:54

7 Answers 7


Don't eat the popcorn straight from the bag. Put it into a nice large bowl. This will provide enough room for the unpopped kernels to fall to the bottom. As for hull shards between your teeth, dental floss or a toothpick will take care of that quickly and relatively neatly. Avoid burnt pieces by watching as you pour the popcorn into the bowl and as you take pieces to eat from the bowl.

Alternatively, set it all aside and serve it (in a nice bowl) when you have guests over. They are unlikely to notice you're not eating any.


There are 2 keys to minimizing the loose kernels,

  1. Quality Popcorn
  2. Quality Appliance

For Quality Popcorn it starts with "Orville's" for basic quality grocery store popcorn. However there are a variety of popping corns available. I received a gift pack like this several years ago. Searching Amazon for Pop Corn will lead you to a variety of choices.

As for a qualify device, the key is a constant stirring motion to allow the kernels to be heated uniformly and prevent the early poppers from burning while the rest of the corn pops. The uniform heating will cause most of the kernels to pop within a very short period of time.

I personally have had great experience from the Whirley-Pop and the West Bend Stir Crazy. I have a slight preference for the Whirley-Pop, but I cannot necessarily qualify "why".

  • 1
    Also: Fresh popcorn. Popcorn fails to pop because it's old and dried out... it pops only when the moisture content in each kernel is right. High quality popcorn will help. Jan 11, 2012 at 2:23
  • I heard a story from one of my high school teachers that one of his former students is the reason that Orville's pops up so well -- they coat the kernels to limit their dehydration as they sit on the shelves. I've never found anything to confirm or refute this though. (and I buy my popcorn at the local Amish market, as they have high turnover, and I can get it at 1/4 the price of the grocery brands)
    – Joe
    Jan 23, 2013 at 16:55

If you are using microwaved popcorn, after you take it out of the microwave, pull two opposite corners just slightly, so that opening of the bag barely opens... maybe 5mm wide at most. Turn the bag upside down and shake over the sink (or trash can once you are good at it) and almost all of the unpopped kernels will fall through the hole.

This of course doesn't work for stove top or air popped corn, but is a nice trick in a pinch.


If you're having problems with unpopped kernels, and this isn't microwave bags, consider an air popper.

As the kernels pop, they're pushed up by the air, and out into the bowl nearby. Although occassionally you get unpopped or only partially popped kernels that eject, those that don't are then heated longer, giving them more of a chance to pop without scorching those that have already popped.

Once it's done, if there are any remaining unpopped kernels in the popper, you can just trash them directly. (when I turn the popper off, those last few settle against the hot bottom and might give a late pop)

I direct the outflow into a rather large bowl, so that I can mist them with a pump oil sprayer and some popcorn salt, then flip it a few times (generally mist a second or third time, too, so I'm not just getting the ones on top), and in that agitation process, the under-popped kernels fall to the bottom of the bowl.

... and with all of that being said, I know some folks who specifically seek out the unpopped kernels. I'll occassionally chomp on them, and unless you have problems with calcium deficiency or teeth problems in your family, I wouldn't think that cracking a tooth would be likely (assuming no rocks got in there). And I say this after having shattered a tooth as a kid (eating a Snickers bar ... I still won't touch them 25+ years later).

And the shards ... occassionally you'll get a hull trapped in between your gums and teeth, even when you're not chomping on the unpopped ones. It's annoying and uncomfortable, but I've never had one that a toothpick and/or floss couldn't take care of.


Heat a spoon of oil in a medium saucepan with a lid to medium hot. Then add enough popcorn to cover just one layer thick. Place lid on tightly. After the first minute briefly shaken pan every ten or so seconds, when popping starts shake more often. When popping subsided take off heat and pour into a large container.

Shake the container gently and the un-popped kernels will be at the bottom. Do not attempt to eat these!

If you shake the pan enough while cooking there will not be any burnt pieces. Do not shake too much that the cooking processes stops though!

It's not hard, it just take a few goes to practise it. You can always through the first few batches away, until you get it right!


I understand your concern because I also had a fear of popcorn due to unpopped kernels and kernel shards.
To minimize the impact of unpopped kernels and shards, I suggest using an air popper or a silicone bowl with a lid when popping popcorn. These methods tend to leave fewer unpopped kernels and reduce the likelihood of kernel shards.
Additionally, allowing the popcorn to sit for a minute or two after popping can help any remaining kernels settle to the bottom, making it easier to scoop out the popped corn without getting too many unpopped ones.
As for the type of popcorn, look for varieties labeled as "hulless" or "tender hull" as they tend to produce fewer kernel shards. With these adjustments, you can enjoy popcorn without the fear of unpleasant surprises.

  • 1
    Please don’t post AI-generated answers.
    – Sneftel
    Mar 27 at 6:24

It's very hard to resist the temptation of sweet, sweet, popcorn (drooool) especially when settling to watch a film. However packs should come with a cigarette packet style warning: 'May get lodged in between gums, causing an infection, leading to a sore throat and in turn, a massive ear ache.'

It does happens folks, just as I recently experienced, and it's not nice. Having recovered fully, I'm back to chomping down bags of the deliciously moreish snack. I had a eureka moment just this evening that will hopefully save many of us from such agony. Here it is;

Eat just a few corn pops (?!) at a time and at a leisurely pace!

Simple! By doing this you allow ample time for your mouth / tongue / saliva to do the necessary clear up before you reload... rather than forcing mouthfuls of shards and slivers into each and every nook and cranny of your huge gob until theres no where for them to to hide but in between you gums.

Boom! Genius... Spread the word people! We're safe. Free to live. No more will we be held captive.

;) Lade

  • 2
    This is Q&A site, not a chat.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Sep 7, 2013 at 6:34

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