How To Pop Unpopped Kernels – Quick Popcorn Tips To Know!

How Do You Make Unpopped Kernels Pop?

how do you make unpopped kernels pop

It’s important to understand that kernels need to be able to build up enough internal pressure to explode. Popcorn pops when the moisture inside the kernel heats and turns to steam.

The hard shell keeps the moisture from escaping. Eventually, the pressure builds up so high inside that the internally-steamed popcorn explodes to create the crunchy treat we all enjoy.

What Causes Popcorn Kernels Not To Pop?

There are two main reasons that a popcorn kernel might not pop:

  1. Not enough moisture: If there isn’t enough moisture inside the kernel, heating won’t make it burst out of its shell and pop. Fewer old maids appear in a bowl of popcorn when the popcorn is at its ideal moisture level of 13-14.5%.
  2. A damaged outer shell: If the kernel starts the popping process with a damaged outer shell, the moisture escapes gradually instead of all at once with a pop.

There are some other reasons that you might run into as well:

  • Microwave ovens or popcorn makers without enough heat: poorly heated kernels take longer to heat up and create internal steam pressure. Poor (insufficient) heating makes this take longer – if it happens at all! It’s also possible to accidentally burn the popcorn that did pop because you’re heating it too long to try and get the rest done, too.
  • Expired/dried kernels: Unpopped kernels that have been stored for too long may have dried out somewhat. In that case there’s simply not enough moisture inside anymore.

How Do You Rejuvenate Popcorn Kernels?

Learning how to pop unpopped kernels is fairly simple. This approach does use microwaving the kernels so they can heat up quickly and hopefully explode:

Restoring moisture to popcorn kernels

1. Steaming with boiling water

One way is by steaming the kernels for ten minutes on top of boiling water. Your old kernels will be rehydrated and ready to pop right away.

2. By soaking in water in a jar

This one’s very simple but isn’t the one to choose if you’re in a hurry:

  • Place them in a jar and add one teaspoon of distilled water.
  • Shake/mix the contents in the jar over a few days as they soak. In a few days the kernels will be ready for popping.
Note: You should add one cup of popcorn kernels for every teaspoon of dechlorinated water when soaking them to get them ready.

Popping your kernels

  1. Collect all your unpopped kernels: Many people collect old maid kernels from their popper in a jar and pop them when they have enough to pop. Three tablespoons of kernels will make five cups of popped corn.
  2. Place the kernels in a paper bag: A successful homemade popcorn bag needs to be folded a few times at the top to prevent escaping popcorn. Some people use a single staple to keep the bag shut.
  3. Pop the kernels in the microwave: The microwave popcorn method requires less popping time than usual since their shells have already thinned from the previous heat. So, it’s a good idea to listen for when they’ve stopped popping to ensure they don’t burn.

Unfortunately, there are always going to be popcorn kernels that are too stubborn to ever pop because they have too little moisture inside or have cracked outer shells. That’s just plain old bad luck.

What Are Unpopped Popcorn Kernels Called?

what are unpopped popcorn kernels called

A common nickname for unpopped popcorn kernels is “old maids” or “spinsters” since they’re the pieces left behind when all their popcorn peers have popped. You or your kids might come up with their own interesting names, too.

The truth is, most people aren’t aware nicknames for unpopped kernels even exist!

Does Freezing Popcorn Make It Pop Better?

does freezing popcorn make it pop better

While it sounds like freezing might be a good idea to add moisture to popcorn, it actually causes more bad kernels in a popcorn maker.

Rather than adding moisture to the popcorn, it often causes the popcorn to lose moisture instead. As you may recall from personal experience after leaving food in an unsealed or leaky container in the refrigerator, it dries out over time. This is because the cold hair is lacking in moisture (like in winter seasons) which draws it out from food.

It’s best to store popcorn at room temperature in an airtight container. This storage method preserves moisture for optimal popping and fewer unpopped pieces.

How Long Are Popcorn Kernels Good for After the Expiration Date?

how long are popcorn kernels good for after the expiration date

The ideal time period for popping popcorn is within two years of production. This time frame corresponds to 6-12 months after the expiration date on the popcorn label.

It’s still possible to pop popcorn after the expiration date, but the fresher the kernels, the fewer unpopped spinster pieces will end up in the mix.

How Do You Make Popcorn Taste Like Movie Theater Popcorn?

how do you make popcorn taste like movie theater popcorn

While storebought popcorn tastes somewhat like movie theater popcorn, in all honesty, it can’t compare to the real thing!

Here’s a better way to make your own movie theater style popcorn at home:

  1. Put a Dutch oven or another pot with a lid over medium-high heat on the stove.
  2. Melt enough unrefined, virgin coconut oil in the bottom of the pan to cover the bottom about a ⅛ inch (just enough to coat the popcorn).
  3. Place enough popcorn in the bottom of the pan for a single layer and toss to coat with oil.
  4. When a couple of kernels pop, place the lid on the pan.
  5. Shake occasionally to prevent burning & keep things distributed evenly.
  6. When the popping slows and you see a generous amount ready to eat, remove the pan from the heat.
  7. Toss with lots of melted butter and salt.

SNACK TIP: Want to use the exact same flavoring that movie theaters use? What you’re looking for is Flavacol, a specialty butter salt that’s made up of tiny flakes that don’t fall off the kernels like standard salt or seasoning.

You can even buy it yourself to get that same movie cinema popcorn taste at home.

Modified 11/24/2023: Change author title line from to type based on Pagespeed Insights accessability note regarding h5 out of sequence.

About the author

Daniel loves to eat snacks - and finds unique kinds of candy, treats, and food in general a fun topic to share. When not writing or volunteering, you can usually find him in the kitchen cooking up some delicious treats. He's fascinated with classic treats because of how each one has a different story behind it which makes them unique. Read more »