In a nutshell: infrared grills, although expensive, are gaining popularity due to their speed and energy efficiency compared to conventional cooking technologies. A group of researchers recently demonstrated that the same method can be used to make popcorn — a process slightly different from cooking meat.
Infrared cooking could be a new way to make popcorn, according to an article in ACS Food Science & Technology. The study proves that the technology can produce delicious popcorn with less energy than a conventional microwave oven or an air popper.
This method was used to heat other food by directly directing infrared radiation onto heated objects such as glass or ceramics. Infrared grills use this process to cook meat much faster than conventional grills that heat the air around the meat. However, making popcorn would be a new realization due to its unique nature.
Popcorn kernels burst when heat turns the water contained in them into steam. The right amount of heat creates enough pressure to break down the outer shell, releasing proteins and starch, which then cool and settle into a foam that takes the familiar shape of a puff.
The trick is that the cores cannot be heated too slowly or too quickly. Some kernels don’t burst because the slow reaction allows steam to seep out of the shell, while others don’t burst properly because the fast reaction doesn’t give the protein and starch enough time to cool.
To test whether cooking in the infrared range can provide this balance, researchers from the Iranian Research Organization for Science and Technology (IROST) in Tehran placed popcorn kernels and butter in a rotating steel chamber equipped with two infrared lamps at a distance of about 10 cm from the kernels. They used this method to repeatedly cook popcorn using lamps of different power, checked the quality of each exploded core and instructed tasters to taste the results.
The lamps could successfully cook popcorn at 500 watts. When cooking with 800-watt lamps, the largest puffs of popcorn are obtained, but tasters reported that the best results are given by a 700-watt lamp.
For comparison, the power of most microwave ovens is about 1000 watts, while popular devices for making popcorn with hot air operate at a power of about 1400 watts. These early results show that infrared popcorn ovens or other infrared cooking devices can significantly save energy when cooking popular food.