Why Do Some Popcorn Kernels Not Pop?

by Charlie
Popcorn kernels

When you’re making popcorn, there are almost always a few kernels left in the bottom of the bag that just won’t pop. This can be annoying and feels wasteful, and it might leave you wondering why it happens.

It’s not a good idea to keep heating the kernels in case they suddenly pop, as this may cause the rest of the popcorn to burn. However, if you do want to, take the popped corn out and focus on just the remaining kernels.

Why do some popcorn kernels not pop? Popcorn kernels sometimes won’t pop because they are too wet. This stops the kernel from reacting to the heat properly. Equally, a popcorn kernel that is too dry won’t pop either, so it’s important for the moisture levels to be right.

Why Won’t Some Popcorn Kernels Pop?

Usually, popcorn kernels not popping is a sign that they have got too much moisture in them, or not enough moisture in them. Popcorn works because the steam builds up inside it, and eventually explodes the watertight shell outward.

For this to work, you need enough steam in the kernel in order to force the kernel’s tough exterior apart. If there is too much moisture, the kernel won’t heat properly. 

If there is not enough moisture, it won’t generate enough steam to pop open. If the kernel has been damaged, the pressure won’t build up properly, and the kernel won’t pop.

If you find that popcorn kernels aren’t popping and you have had them for a long time, it’s possible that they have either got damp or dried up while being stored – and either of these will cause problems.

How Can You Make More Popcorn Kernels Pop?

You will have to determine whether your kernels are too wet, too dry, or damaged in order to fix the issue, as each of these will demand a different solution.

If your popcorn kernels are too wet, you may be able to get them to pop simply by heating them for a bit longer. This should help the steam to build up and this will, with luck, result in a popped kernel for you to enjoy.

If this doesn’t work, put your popcorn kernels on a plate in a sunny spot and let some of the moisture evaporate from them for a few hours. This may be enough to make them pop.

If your popcorn kernels are too dry, you will have to soak them to add moisture. Be aware that this isn’t an instant process, because the hull does not absorb water easily.

You will need to soak your kernels for about a day in order to increase their moisture content. Place them in a bowl or a jar with some water. Put a lid over it, and then leave them for around twenty-four hours.

Once this is done, take a few kernels and pop them. If they still don’t pop, give them another day of soaking.

If you find that the kernels still won’t go, it may be time to discard them and get a fresh batch.

Before you try either method, you may wish to inspect the kernels for damage. If the outer hull is no longer watertight, the kernel will not pop because steam will be able to escape and the pressure won’t reach sufficient levels.

In these cases, the kernels should just be thrown away. You will never be able to get them to pop.

Can You Eat Unpopped Popcorn Kernels?

No, you should not eat or attempt to eat unpopped popcorn kernels. You should remove them from the bowl before giving popcorn to kids, too, as they could present a choking hazard.

Unpopped kernels are very hard and are not intended to be consumed. They should also not be swallowed whole, in case of choking. In general, one or two kernels will not be a problem, but eating them in large quantities could cause intestinal problems.

These will usually resolve themselves, but in very severe cases, they may result in the need for surgery. It is important to throw away unpopped kernels; they are not meant to be consumed.

Do All Bags of Popcorn Contain Unviable Kernels?

Most bags of popcorn will contain a few kernels that will not pop, for whatever reason. However, some brands do seem to be worse than others.

Unpopped kernels are sometimes known as “old maids” and in general, the higher quality brands have fewer of these. Low quality popcorn, which may be improperly stored, tends to have more of these. You may pay less for these brands, but you get less edible popcorn from them.

Can You Reduce the Number of Unviable Kernels?

Try to keep bags of popcorn in a dry, cool, dark place. If you keep them somewhere damp, moisture will creep in and may ruin the kernels, preventing them from popping. Equally, if you keep them in a warm place, they will dry out and will not contain enough moisture to pop.

Most of the time, it is nothing to do with the at-home storage. You will usually find that you have a low number of kernels that won’t pop in every bag, and that’s just standard. 

However, if you notice that a lot of your popcorn kernels will not pop, there is likely a good reason for this. Check your storage solution and make sure it is not damp or hot.

Can You Always Make a Popcorn Kernel Pop?

No. Even using the methods above to correct the moisture balance, some popcorn simply will not pop. It is not worth spending large amounts of time trying to fix the kernels. Choose high quality brands, and discard any kernels that won’t pop.

Final Thoughts

Usually, popcorn kernels that won’t pop are due to the kernel being too wet or too dry. You may be able to correct this by soaking the kernels or drying them out. Sometimes, hull damage is the issue, and in these cases, there is nothing you can do.

Don’t eat unpopped kernels; they are not safe for consumption.

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