No doubt, wifey. Few things beat out popcorn made on a stove top, but one thing that can, at least for her, is the all the leftover little kernels that didn't quite pop in time. The "widows," as I've heard some people call them. For me, I find them a little too hard and crunchy to truly enjoy. It also might be that I'm too mindful of the dollars I've invested in my mouth to keep it semi-functional and toothache free. I like the idea, though, and the Partially Popped Popcorn packaging promised them to be "easier on the jaw," so these were a must buy on our last trip, along with that new-fangled cookie butter confection all you kids are raving about.
Now, I'd have no idea how to even make such an item possible, but fortunately, Trader Joe's provides a patent number and Google provides the rest. Here's Patent US7579036. If I'm reading this correctly, the corn kernel gets soaked to a certain moisture point before popping. The result? The patented popping protocol produces palatable partially popped popcorn precisely perfect for perfunctory party or proper peaceful powwow pickings. Phew.
Peruvian corn we reviewed a few months back (think: mummified maize), but instead hold very true to the kernel. Yet, there's the edge taken off, and what's more, while still very crunchy, the inside has a softer fluff to it. I was going to use the analogy of perhaps a twice-baked potato, but I don't think I can pull that together too coherently. So, instead, imagine if, at the very nanosecond of popping, as that kernel precisely at the very start of the abrupt phase change from crunchy seed-type-thing to fluffy, glorious popcorn....the whole process just stops. It's frozen in time. Like a note from Clarence Clemon's saxophone, it's pushed right to the very verge of bursting wide open but instead, somehow, it keeps entirely contained.
There is some white dusty glaze on the outside, visually and texturally reminiscent of the stuff on Muddy Buddies, except it's salty and buttery instead of sugary. It's not quite "move theater style" flavor, but is still very salty and buttery and comfort-foody like that. It leaves a slight greasiness on your fingertips, but not as much as a handful of chips, so don't let its appearance sway you.
Sandy loves these. Her only complaint? She wishes they would come in different flavors. "Cheese!" she says. "These just need some cheese and they'd be perfect!" I personally would love a little cinnamon/sugar combo, or perhaps some caramel. Maybe we can compromise and ask for a Chicago-style mixed bag - we have no such qualms as our eastern counterparts. Still, for a measly $2.49, we may have found a new favorite salty snack at TJ's. Until they put cookie butter on it, at least. Matching 4.5s.
Bottom line: Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons