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I’m a big fan of popcorn, fresh popped with a little salt and a drizzle of butter or olive oil. (Yes, olive oil. Try it, if you don’t believe me.) So when I saw this photo of popped sorghum, I had to ﬁnd out more. Soon a bag of sorghum was speeding its way to my oﬃce by UPS.
When it arrived today I dropped everything (didn’t take much prodding – who really wants to work on Friday?) and went into our test kitchen. My “popcorn popper” is a thirty year old saucepan, low-tech but reliable. I poured in a little canola oil, and a thin layer of sorghum grains, put on the lid, and started shaking the heck out of the pan over high heat.
Nothing seemed to be happening. Where were those satisfying pings you get with popcorn, when the kernels explode and hit the pot lid? I peeked inside – and had to duck to avoid the ﬂying sorghum. It was popping, but the sorghum kernels are so much smaller and lighter than corn kernels that they just don’t make as much noise. Which made it a challenge to know when the sorghum was all popped. Usually, with popcorn, I wait until the bombardment quiets down, then carefully remove the lid.
This time I just kept sneaking peeks, until I could tell that all the small round ball-bearings had turned to little bits of ﬂuﬀ. And the operating term is “little.” Popped sorghum is much smaller than popped corn, but with a very similar delicious light crunch. Yum. Now the only question is, what do we call it? Any ideas?
My adventure with popped sorghum led me to explore whether other grains could also be popped. I was aware that not all grains are gonna pop; there needs to be a particular relationship between the amount of moisture in a grain and the resistance of the outer layer of the kernel, so that it bursts at just the right time once the internal moisture turns to steam.
I had heard that popped amaranth is widely sold as street food in Central and South America, so I tried that next, but with little success. Maybe my amaranth had been hanging around in summer humidity for too long; all it did was toast instead of popping, but the toasted grain will make the basis of a lovely pilaf. You can’t lose either way, with a good whole grain.
If you’ve popped whole grains other than popcorn, write and tell us about your experience! The NASA website says “only popcorn kernels can pop” but maybe popping other grains isn’t rocket science after all… (Cindy)
Don't be hard on yourself. Good for you for trying. The fact is, that if you bought corn that wasn't MEANT to be popped you'd probably end up with a lot of smoke too. You'll definitely do better with sorghum that's meant to be popped.
I have popped sorghum, wild rice, whole grain oats (groats), quinoa, amaranth, millet, chia, flax and teff. They all pop to a certain extent. 100% of my wild rice pops, about 90% of my amaranth pops,80% of my sorghum and maybe 33% of the oats. I could pop all of the flax but I feel that while it's heating and popping some of the goodness is cooking out so I only pop about 30%. The quinoa, chia, millet and teff only pop a little, so I end up just toasting those. All of the wheat type products pop well, I can get close to 100%.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Nature Nate. Interesting to know that you've had success popping so many different grains. (Cynthia)
Thank you for sharing! Popped amaranth can be tricky to master.
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