Why You Can Never Have Enough Popcorn
Why You Can Never Have Enough Popcorn
Popcorn is a go-to snack for many Americans. No matter your dieting habits or tastes, chances are good that you like popcorn. If you’re a fan of melted better running down your face at the movie theater, you get popcorn. On the other hand, if you prefer something a bit lighter and air-popped, you still go with popcorn. It’s one of those foods that you can eat and eat and eat and still tell yourself that it’s still a healthier option than whatever else you could be having at the moment. After all, at least you didn’t buy the extra large tub at the theater. You could be eating ice cream on your couch while watching a Sex and the City marathon, but instead you’re eating popcorn. Look at you go, making healthy decisions, you tell yourself as you contemplate Sarah Jessica Parker’s tiny waist and go on with your life.
The reason why you like popcorn is a bit more complex than just a worldwide appeal to taste and the potential for a healthy snack, however. People have been eating popcorn for literally thousands of years, and there’s a physiological reason behind it.
First, popcorn melts in your mouth and humans love melt-in-your-mouth foods. Ice cream, chocolate, butter, a really good steak — it all melts in your mouth. Carrot sticks do not melt in your mouth, and that’s one of the many reasons why people will always prefer ice cream to carrots. Because of the porous nature and high air content of popcorn, it starts to disintegrate almost as soon as it meets your tongue, almost quicker than any other food.
In addition to loving foods with contrasting textures, such as those that are capable of melting, we also love foods that have a lot of variety. Popcorn can be as bland or flavorful as you like it, and comes in an almost endless array of options. Go to some of the most touted gourmet popcorn shops in the world, and you’ll stumble upon varieties you’d never dream of. Whatever flavor strikes your fancy, you’ll find it — sweet, spicy, salty, subtle. It’s all there. Your choices are limitless.
The classic popcorn smells plays into this as well. In the olfactory world, there are certain scents that we become accustomed to over time. It’s why someone else’s house has “a smell” (good, bad or neutral), but you can never smell your own house until the rare occasion when you’ve been on vacation and walk through the door for the first time in a few weeks. It’s why you finally stopped noticing your smelly dog after about two weeks of missing the appointment at the groomer’s. Certain foods have smells that simple can never grow old. Their chemical makeup allows you to experience the great scent anew each and every time, and these are the foods we generally like to eat most. Popcorn is one of these foods, as is vanilla, fresh bread and butter.
Of course, most individuals like their popcorn covered in butter and salt, and butter and salt just so happen to be two of the body’s favorite foods. Both cause extremely high pleasure sensations, making eating popcorn a heavily hedonistic experience.
If you’ve read any of the other BalaFive blog posts on why we love the foods we do, you’ll probably pick up on a little term called caloric density — or the body’s affinity for foods that pack lots of calories into a small space. Oddly, popcorn is one of the very few favorite foods that we love, that has a very low caloric density. This is referred to as vanishing caloric density, because popcorn is highly pleasurable in the mouth, but then melts down and, when digested, is relatively low in calories. This, however, leads to actually more popcorn consumption, because your body is confused. When you take that first bite, your brain thinks it’s so great, but then it hits your stomach and your brain is expecting something really satiating to go along with the awesome flavor — but it’s disappointed. The satiation just isn’t there. In short, that’s why it’s so easy to eat two or three bags of microwave popcorn without blinking an eye, or finish off a jumbo bucket before the movie starts. Your body thinks, maybe, if it just eats more, it’ll reach peak satiation.
All things considered, popcorn has just about the most oral reward for each ingested calorie. In many ways, you’re getting a fantastic bargain.