If you’re a rule follower, like me, you see the instructions on a bag of microwave popcorn as a warning: If you don’t pop this correctly, you’ll pay.
I assume the instruction to pop a bag “This Side Up” is saving you from burned popcorn, under-popped kernels, or worse, an exploding microwave. I was happy to just leave the mystery to the universe.
But because my job is to ask the kitchen questions others dare not broach—or they totally do but I’m just a scaredy cat—I popped a bag This Side Down, and I made it out so I can tell you what happens when you defy the rules of popcorn popping.
Honestly, not much.
Here’s why: The reason microwave popcorn manufacturers give you a side to have up when you start the nuking is because one side of the bag (the side you put down) has a susceptor in it. A susceptor is a material that absorbs energy from the microwave and converts it to heat to speed up popping and more easily turn tiny kernels into fluffy clouds of exploded starch.
Popcorn will pop without a susceptor. You can throw a few kernels in any old brown paper bag, and it’ll render into delicious snack in a few minutes. But a susceptor can help you get more kernels of bigger size and leave fewer unpopped pieces, which gets you a better value for your dollar.