Popcorn is a delicious and beloved snack that can also be quite affordable! Whether you enjoy it during a Netflix binge, at the movies or as a midafternoon snack, the crunch of popcorn is hard to resist. But with anything consumable, you might find yourself wondering if the popcorn in front of you is still good or if it’s gone bad. How long does popcorn last? What is popcorn’s shelf life? The quick answer is, it depends. Read on to learn more.
Shelf Life of Popcorn
When stored properly, popcorn has a relatively long shelf life. Unpopped kernels can last for years if stored right. Popped popcorn has a shorter shelf life, so if you are looking for the type of popcorn that can live in your kitchen cabinet for as long as possible, then your best choice is to go with unpopped kernels.
The shelf life of a bag of gourmet popcorn can vary widely, due to the different toppings and flavors. It should have a best-by date for you to go by. Keep this in mind for the time before you open the bag or tin of popcorn. Once opened, you should consume the gourmet popcorn within a few days for best results.
The shelf life of an unopened, unpopped package of microwave popcorn is shorter than that of natural kernels because of the added oils and flavors. Most microwave popcorn has a best-by date, so you should go by that. You can expect this to be between six months and a year from the production date. After the expiry date, the popcorn will likely not pop as well and may not taste as good anymore either. Just as with fresh kernels, keep microwave popcorn in a dry, cool place or else you may have your popcorn go bad before its best by date.
As mentioned, popped popcorn, has a shorter shelf life. When stored correctly (as explained below), homemade or an opened package of popped popcorn can last for about two weeks. But the quality of the popcorn will deteriorate over time. Stale popcorn will be more soft and chewy rather than crunchy, and won’t taste as good. It might still be safe to consume, but because stale popcorn won’t taste like your favorite snack anymore, you will probably prefer to make yourself a new batch!
Proper Storage for Popcorn
The good news is that proper storage really will lengthen the shelf life of your popcorn. Here are some tips for storing popcorn:
- Store unpopped popcorn kernels in their original packaging or a sealed jar. This is the best place to keep your popcorn until you are ready to pop and eat them.
- Otherwise, store your popcorn in an airtight container or sealed bag. I like to use glass containers with a tight fitted lid, such as mason jars. This is essential to keeping moisture out.
- Plastic containers can let in too much air, which can cause popcorn to go stale. Glass works better!
- Keeping your unpopped kernels in a glass jar will help you see what’s in it (and remember to use it!). The jar acts as an air-tight container and it’s zero waste. I have kept fresh kernels for years this way. It’s great, because they are always ready to be popped for any impromptu movie night!
- Keep your popcorn in a cool, dry place. Room temperature is the best option.
- Store your popcorn in a dark place, keeping it away from heat and direct sunlight.
- If you have leftover popcorn, store it in an airtight container. I personally think leaving the airtight container of popcorn on the kitchen counter is best. Some folks prefer to put it into the refrigerator. The latter might help prevent mold, but it does cause the popcorn to lose its crispness. Eat within about 5 days.
- Avoid popcorn tins! This might seem counterintuitive, but popcorn tins often aren’t airtight, which means your popcorn will go stale more quickly. Instead, store it in an airtight container.
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Different Types of Popcorn And Their Shelf Life
As mentioned above, there are different types of popcorn available. The type of popcorn changes the shelf life. Here are some options:
- Unpopped popcorn kernels: Dry popcorn kernels have an indefinite shelf life when stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. You can keep them for years this way!
- Homemade popcorn: Homemade popcorn is a popular choice for those who prefer to control the ingredients in their snacks. Homemade popcorn has a shelf life of about two weeks once popped, if stored properly and without any toppings added (salt is fine though).
- Pre-popped popcorn: Pre-popped popcorn is typically sold in bags or tins and has a shelf life of about a couple of months when stored properly in its unopened container.
- Gourmet popcorn: Gourmet popcorn is a type of popcorn that comes in different flavors and is often coated with various seasonings. Gourmet popcorn typically has a shorter shelf life than corn due to the added ingredients. The best way to know if the unopened package of gourmet popcorn is still good, is to go by its expiration date. Once opened, eat within about 5 days.
- Microwaveable popcorn: Microwaveable popcorn is a popular choice for its convenience. However, it has a shorter shelf life due to the added oils and flavorings. Most microwaveable popcorn has a best-by date, which should be checked before popping and consuming.
Signs of Spoilage
Even with all the above timelines in mind, you might be hoping for more specifics to figure out whether your popcorn has spoiled. After all, eating spoiled food is never fun! Here are some signs of spoilage to look out for:
- Soft or chewy texture: If the popcorn has a soft or chewy texture, it is probably stale, and though it might be safe to consume, it would be less appealing to eat.
- Foul or rancid odor: If the popcorn has a strong, foul or rancid odor, it is probably spoiled. Don’t eat something that smells off to you! It’s best to throw it out.
- Discoloration: If the popcorn has an unusual color, such as black or green, toss it!
- Mold: If you see mold on the popcorn, it should be thrown out immediately. There is a health risk to consuming mold that just isn’t worth trying to save the food item.
Flavors and Their Shelf Life
Due to the added ingredients, different popcorn flavors can have varying shelf lives. Flavors such as caramel or cheese will likely have a shorter shelf life. The longest lasting popcorn is definitely unflavored dry kernels, followed by merely salted popped popcorn. If you’re looking at microwave packets or a popcorn bag from the store, keep their expiration date and storage instructions in mind. If you added the flavors and toppings yourself to your homemade popcorn, you should consume it within 3-5 days while storing it in an airtight container. Use the above tips to properly store your popcorn and to check for signs of spoilage.
Best Type of Popcorn for Shelf Life
If you are looking to buy popcorn with the longest shelf life, then your best bet is definitely to get a package of dry kernels for you to pop yourself whenever you are ready to have some popcorn. Even though microwaveable packets are thought to be the easiest way to get homemade popcorn, making popcorn from kernels is actually quite easy and quick too! I’ve written a whole post on how to make popcorn on the stove. Read that for the full tutorial and step by step to using a pot and your kernels, no paper bag or microwave needed! The benefits of getting dry kernels are not only that they store much longer (keep them for years under the right storage conditions!), but also that you get to decide how much oil and what flavors and toppings to add to them. Trust me, it’s such a good idea to have popcorn kernels at home. You never know when the craving for fresh popcorn might hit!
In conclusion, popcorn is a delicious and popular snack that can last for a long time when stored properly. Unpopped popcorn kernels have an indefinite shelf life when stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. Popped popcorn has a shorter shelf life and can last for a couple of weeks when stored properly. Proper storage includes using an airtight container, storing in a cool, dry place, and keeping away from sources of heat and direct sunlight. Use the tips and guidelines above to ensure your movie night snack will be as fresh as possible!