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Many years have past since I popped corn in an open fire or over a gas stove. Many of us probably remember buying popcorn (ready to pop) in a small round foil type throw away container. I can remember grouping with friends around a campfire or in front of a wood burning fireplace, sharing stories and watching in amazement as the vessel of popcorn began to grow. The container was designed with a handle so one could hold the vessel over an open flame. The top would swell as the kernels were heated and popped. Popping the corn was more fun than eating the soft popped kernels.
Those days have changed forever with the invention of the microwave. We now put our popcorn bag in the microwave oven, punch in three to five minutes or press the popcorn button, run back to the TV or computer, waiting impatiently for the kernels to pop. Oh I miss the old days; well maybe not! Dating back to 1946 (popcorn can be traced back 80,000 years) the microwave oven was invented quite by accident. According to J. Carlton Gallaway, the microwave was a by-product of a radar-related research project conducted by Percy LeBaron Spencer with the Raytheon Corporation”. As they say the rest is history.
Created by a magnetron electron tube, microwaves heat food to a depth of one inch. As the heat is conducted inward the rest of the food is cooked. Microwaves bounce around inside the cavity of the oven and are eventually absorbed by the food, causing molecules in the food to vibrate producing heat through friction. Popcorn has moisture in the center of the kernel, an efficient microwave absorber. As the water molecules vibrate and heat the kernel erupts and turns inside out. Water is believed to be the best absorber of microwaves; therefore foods with higher moisture content will cook quicker than those of lower moisture content.
Over the years I have heard people speak of the dangers of microwave radiation. Popping corn was probably more dangerous than the modern microwave, especially when a small piece of wood containing super heated moisture popped into your lap burning a hole in your clothing. The radiation produced by your microwave oven is similar to that produced by a TV, radio or cell phone, which is referred to as non-ionizing radiation.
It is important to keep your microwave cavity clean to prevent damage to the cavity. Microwaves bounce off the clean walls of your cavity, leaving you walls cool to the touch. Burned on foods can cause localized heat build up that could damage your microwave interior.