The Butterfly and the Mushroom: Specifics Matter

While sitting in a movie theater recently, my lovely wife was closely examining the contents of her gigantic tub-o-popcorn. She pulled out two popped kernels, and noted that the shapes for both were very different. Because I am the self-appointed "King of Pop.corn", she asked me what the dealie-o was with the two shapes. This is a common question that I receive at my customer service position, and I was happy, much to her chagrin, to answer her question at great length. However, she asked me very nicely to shut up once the previews started.

You, lucky reader, get to now read the full explanation of the Mushroom vs Butterfly kernel. This is fascinating stuff! Really!

Popcorn has two basic kernel types. Mushroom and Butterfly. While both types are common in most strains of popcorn, the mushroom kernels are generally larger and rounder in their un-popped form. When a mushroom kernel pops, the result is (yep, you guessed it) a larger and rounder shaped popped kernel, or "flake". The butterfly kernel type is much more "free" in its form, taking on a variety of more open shapes.

So, dear reader, you may ask: "So, popcorn man, what is the big deal about these two shapes, anyway?" First, it's the "King of Pop...corn", not "Popcorn Man", if you please. Secondly, the answer, while simple, makes a huge difference in flavored popcorn.

Because the mushroom type kernel has a larger surface area, it is able to hold powdered seasonings and coatings, like caramel, more efficiently. There is less "pooling" of flavorings, as the flake is very round in shape, thus producing a more evenly-coated end result. Additionally, mushroom kernels require a bit more heat to pop as they are larger in size. Because of this, you will often see manufacturers of flavored popcorn treats using industrial air poppers to pop massive amounts of Mushroom kernels, then seasoning them. Additionally, because of their round shape, the flavored popcorn packs more closely in serving containers, and achieves specific weight easier, too. Theaters, on the other hand, like the butterfly kernel, because their more open shape allows them to fill the tub-o-popcorn theater-style buckets using less kernels. Pretty smart, huh?

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