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Science 101: The Fascinating Explanation Behind Popping Popcorn

Jumat, 18 Agustus 2023 - 03:11 | 92.82k
Pretty girl holding popcorn. (Photo: Freepik)
Pretty girl holding popcorn. (Photo: Freepik)

TIMESINDONESIA, JAKARTA – Popcorn, the beloved crunchy snack enjoyed in cinemas, at home, and practically everywhere, has a whimsical side to its creation. The transformation of ordinary corn kernels into delightful, fluffy popcorn involves a pinch of science and a dash of physics. The phenomenon of popcorn popping is an example of captivating physical change spurred by heat. Let's delve into the scientific explanation of why corn kernels burst into delightful popcorn.

To unravel the secret behind popcorn's explosive transformation, let's explore the fundamental structure of a corn kernel. Each corn kernel is encased in a hard and brittle outer layer called the "pericarp" or corn hull. Inside the kernel resides the endosperm, a starchy, carbohydrate-rich part of the kernel. The presence of water within the kernel is crucial to this process.

When corn kernels are subjected to heat, several fascinating events unfold. Firstly, the heat penetrates the kernel, warming the water within it. This water begins to turn into hot steam, becoming trapped within the confines of the tough pericarp. The combination of high temperature and pressure generated by this steam causes the endosperm, which contains starch, to soften and become pliable.

Physical Changes and Pressure Buildup

As this softened endosperm heats up further, the pressure created by the hot steam inside the kernel increases significantly. Simultaneously, the starch within the endosperm starts absorbing water and swells. This process causes the starch to become gelatinous, akin to dough, giving the popcorn its fluffy texture. The escalating pressure eventually exceeds the resistance of the brittle pericarp, causing it to crack and eventually burst.

As the pressure within the corn kernel surpasses its limits, the pericarp bursts open. The trapped hot steam is released suddenly, producing the characteristic popping sound. Additionally, as the pressure is released, the expanded and softened endosperm bursts out of the pericarp, forming the familiar spongy popcorn shape.

The water content within the corn kernel is pivotal to this process. Water plays a critical role in generating pressure and allows the endosperm to expand. Corn that is overly dry might not pop properly or could even turn into burnt kernels due to excessive heat.

The delightful process of popcorn popping is a captivating marriage of science and culinary magic. Water content, combined with the structure of the pericarp and the starch-rich endosperm, creates the enchanting phenomenon of corn kernels transforming into delightful popcorn.

Beyond being a delectable treat, popcorn offers us a delightful insight into how heat and pressure can transform the physical properties of a humble food item into an entirely different form. So, the next time you enjoy a bowl of freshly popped popcorn, remember that there's a little bit of science behind each delightful "pop" (*)

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Editor : Khodijah Siti
Publisher : Sofyan Saqi Futaki

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