Doesn't microwave popcorn smell great? It should: it's chemically engineered to do so. Think that delicious smell is fresh butter? Think again. Many conventional microwave popcorns use diacetyl, an additive, to simulate real butter. And that's a problem.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has long suspected diacetyl vapor's connection to a medical syndrome known as popcorn lung. It's a serious lung disease which, until recently, has only been known to effect popcorn factory workers. But now doctors believe it is also turning up at the consumer level, after a Colorado man was diagnosed with symptoms of popcorn lung.

Industry officials are looking to replace diacetyl in commercial popcorn. But you needn't wait to eliminate this pollutant from your home.

Go organic

The quickest, simplest way to avoid diacetyl vapor exposure is to start buying organic popcorn. It's a little more expensive than conventional varieties — but if you smell butter, it's really butter. You'll also be avoiding genetically modified corn stocks and the ugly payload of pesticide residue which comes in every bowl of store-bought popcorn.

Best of all, you needn't surrender microwave convenience. Farmer Steve's sells organic microwaveable bags which feature no diacetyl, no GMOs, no trans fats, no gluten and no pesticides. You'll find others at your local health or whole foods market.

Make your own microwave popcorn

Wanna dump the diacetyl and save money, too? Make your own microwave popcorn. It's not difficult — though, as with any cooking project, pay attention to safety and never leave popcorn unattended while it's in your microwave.

You'll need a brown paper lunch sack about 1/4 cup of loose, organic popcorn kernels. Measure the kernels into your bag. Add one teaspoon of olive oil and popcorn salt to taste. Fold the top of the bag and shake gently to mix.

Press most of the air out of the bag. Secure with two staples (they won't spark in most ovens) or tape loosely, leaving room for steam to vent. Place flat on a microwave-safe plate and heat on a high setting until the pops have slowed down to about three seconds apart. It will take less than four minutes.


Remove the bag from the microwave and open carefully. The escaping steam will be very hot. Yummy! Fresh, healthy popcorn — at about 15 cents a serving. Season with melted butter or additional spices, as desired.

Update: We've been contacted by numerous popcorn companies who've let us know their microwave varieties are now (or have always been) diacetyl-free.

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2007

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2007

Dump diacetyl by making your own microwave popcorn
Workers in some popcorn factories may be developing lung ailments from the additive diacetyl. Here's how to make diacetyl-free microwave popcorn at home.