This is a slightly quirky, oddly specific blog post, but we were moved to write it in the spirit of gifting originality.
- Are you looking for a gift for someone who loves to pop popcorn? If your answer is “yes,” then please proceed to question 2.
- Does your prospective recipient enjoy experimenting in the kitchen? If you answer here is also “yes,” then read on! If your answer is “no,” you may wish to check out Crown Jewel popcorns (see this post for more info) as a possible gift option.
Around here, we love popcorn, oftentimes eating a big bowl in lieu of dinner - sometimes with melted butter on top, occasionally with a dusting of togarashi or, perhaps most often, popped in olive oil and finished off with a dash of salt.
Until recently, we had no idea that there were other foods you could pop besides popcorn. Turns out there are several. So, here’s our idea for your popcorn-loving gift recipient: a gift basket containing popping alternatives!
We recently experimented with four cereals to see how they popped up. There are certainly other poppable options out there, but these are ones we were able to easily source locally or order online - and, in order to achieve the most unadulterated results, we dry popped them all. In other words, we did not use any oil in the pot so that we could taste each “popped” flavor without interference.
Not all of the following “poppers” can directly substitute for popcorn as the sheer volume you’d need to pop would make that unfeasible. Where that is the case, however, there are other places where they can be used, be it in salads, or other dishes where your gift recipient might wish to get a “crunch fix.” Now, without further ado, here’s a round-up of the four cereals (or seeds and pseudo-cereals) we recommend tucking into a “popping” gift basket (pun intended!). 😊
- AMARANTH: We used Bob’s Red Mill amaranth for our experiment and learned from their packaging that amaranth was a staple food of the ancient Aztecs. Also included on the packaging was a recipe for Alegría, a Mexican snack food made for the Day of the Dead that calls for popped amaranth, mixing it with pumpkin seeds and coating it with a hot mixture of sugar and blackstrap molasses. If you want to use amaranth as a snack, you’ll probably want to follow suit and mix it with other goodies, either using a similar recipe or improvising your own combo. Why is that? Well, amaranth is very tiny and, when it pops, it pops quite subtly. Hopefully though, the above picture manages to capture the difference. Flavor-wise, the popped amaranth was slightly nutty with a hint of sesame-seed-like flavor. Highly recommend for garnishing soups, mixing into salads, dusting onto sandwiches (as long as there is a dressing or some spread to affix the tiny seeds), or mixing into granola.
- QUINOA: We’ve cooked with quinoa many times, little suspecting that it could be popped. Turns out that it can be. Again, like amaranth, the difference between the unpopped and the popped seeds is subtle as they are fairly small. We used a three-color blend of quinoa so you may notice most of the difference in terms of color, with the palest seeds turning a nice, toasty brown. Flavor-wise, quinoa was similar to amaranth in having a touch of sesame-seed-like flavor but slightly different in that it also had a bit more sweetness and a hint of butteriness (even though we dry popped our quinoa without any fats or seasonings). We saved the quinoa you see in the photo for dinnertime and used it in a salad, in lieu of toasted almonds. It added a really nice crunch and a lovely nutty flavor. As with amaranth, we suspect it could also be used to good effect on sandwiches, to garnish soups, or in granola. It might also be fun to experiment with caramelizing popped quinoa and using that on salads.
- SORGHUM: We used Bob’s Red Mill sorghum and, of the four cereals we popped, this was the most popcorn like. Basically, it looks just like diminutive popcorn and was only a tad smaller than the Petite Princess Amber popcorn we order from Crown Jewel. The mouthfeel and texture were pretty much indistinguishable from popcorn too. In terms of flavor though, we felt that the sorghum had a slightly sweeter finish. On thought, we realized that wasn’t too surprising, given sorghum’s sugar content (in our humble opinions, sorghum syrup mixed into some nice salty butter is to cornbread what maple syrup is to buttermilk pancakes - a magical pairing!). In a “popping” gift basket, sorghum will definitely stand out as the popcorn alternative.
- WHEAT BERRIES: Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. The only thing they’re missing is the hull. We used Nature’s Earthly Choice red wheat berries and, dry popped, they reminded us of rice crispies, except crunchier. Visually, the pop was fairly subtle. Gustatorily, they tasted a bit like puffed rice, except earthier and sweeter. In terms of mouthfeel, these were by far the crunchiest of the four cereals we tested, texturally akin perhaps to eating fried wasabi peas. For that reason, we think they work brilliantly in salads, standing in for either (or both) croutons and nuts. They might even work in marshmallow treats (akin to rice crispie treats) although, because they are that bit crunchier, you might want to make your bars a tad thinner. Another idea: mix with toasted nuts and spices for a fab bar snack.
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