Wendyl Wants to Know: Buttery smell... but where's the butter?
ACT II Butter Lover's Flavour Popcorn
$2.22 for 99g or 3 servings.
It's an easy fix when you have a bunch of kids in the lounge watching a movie. Pop a bag of this in the microwave and within minutes you have piping hot popcorn for them to munch on. This product is made in the United States and comes with that distinctive movie popcorn smell which has a sour buttery odour. On closer inspection there is no butter in this product but flavourings to imitate the taste of butter, but the good news is that this brand no longer uses an artificial flavouring which caused illness in workers who made the popcorn. Let's have a look at what else is in it:
Popping corn (71 per cent)
Corn which pops under heat to produce the white, fluffy snacks we know as popcorn. On its own, popcorn is high in fibre, low in calories and fat, contains no sodium, and is sugar free. It also fills you up so it makes a great diet food. In fact, the Popcorn Diet was all the rage a few years ago when Madonna replaced her snack foods with air-dried popcorn. The problem with popcorn, however, is that it is usually cooked along with a great deal of fat. In 1994, the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, an American consumer group that specialises in food and nutrition issues, announced that the popcorn sold in the typical movie theatre was dripping in fat.
"A medium-size buttered popcorn," the report said, "contains more fat than a breakfast of bacon and eggs, a Big Mac and fries, and a steak dinner combined."
Palm oil (antioxidants (319), (330))
And here we have the fat. The fat content per serve (25g or four metric cups popped) is 6.5g which is not too bad considering a snack food like potato chips is about 8g for a 25g serve. But it's not a great fat as three-quarters of all palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia where rainforests - housing the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans and other flora and fauna - are being destroyed.
Antioxidant 319 is tertiary-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) a synthetic preservative. In very high doses, it is thought to be acutely toxic to lab animals however it is allowed in foods but the Food and Drug Administration in the US restricts its use to 0.02 per cent of the oil or fat content in foods. A dose of 5g is fatal and healthy eaters try to avoid it. Both this and 330 which is citric acid will be in the palm oil as a preservative.
Less than 2 per cent of: Natural and artificial flavour
You will note that despite this being labelled as "butter lovers", we have found no butter on the ingredients list. This information for the flavourings used is very murky. How much is natural and how much artificial? And what exactly are they using to imitate the taste of butter in this food?
At 2 per cent, it would mean that there is 0.5g of flavouring. In recent years, the main ingredient of artificial butter flavour diacetyl was found to cause bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare and serious disease of the lungs in factory workers where the flavouring was used. It became known as "Popcorn Worker's Lung" and lawsuits followed.
But you can be safe in the knowledge that in December 2007, ConAgra Foods, the makers of this popcorn, announced it had removed diacetyl from all of its butter-flavoured microwave popcorn.
I cannot tell you what flavourings they have used instead.
Colour added (160b)
This is orange-yellow colouring which I also found in chicken nuggets and fish fingers when I analysed them. It is annatto extract which is a natural dye made from the seed coating of the tropical annatto tree. There are studies which have found it can cause allergic reactions, headaches and irritability [WN1]. People with food intolerance avoid this colouring, but the New Zealand Food Standards Authority allows it. Often food products labelled with "natural colouring" can include annatto extracts.
In my opinion, this popcorn smells artificial and not at all like popcorn cooked with real butter. And I know it takes a little longer - about five minutes - to cook your own popcorn in a saucepan with a lid but you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that there's real butter in there rather than flavourings. You will also come out saving a bit of cash as a 500g bag of popping corn - that's five times the amount in this product - will set you back just $2.99. And you can go crazy with your own flavourings with anything from chilli powder or taco seasoning, to caramel sauce, cinnamon sugar or just plain salt. If you do this, you'll be making the most of the nutritional value of the corn without extra additives.
* It's "Butter Lover's" but there's no butter in it.
* Uses palm oil, which is not a popular choice due to deforestation.
* Has added flavourings and colours you won't need if you make it at home.