Ever since microwave popcorn became popular in the early 1980s, fans of the whole-grain snack have faced a familiar problem. If you don't stop the microwave at exactly the right moment, you end up with either too many tooth-shattering unpopped kernels or a bag of scorched popcorn and a smoke-filled kitchen.
"Our consumer services team found that this is the most frequent difficulty that consumers have," Craig Tokusato, vice president of marketing for Diamond Foods and the person in charge of its Pop Secret popcorn division, told Yahoo! Shine in a phone interview. "It's a highly frequent and annoying problem."
How frequent is "highly frequent?" According to an informal in-house study by Deutsch LA, about 400 people per week send some sort of angry message through social media about having burned their popcorn.
"We needed to find an interactive way to fix an age-old problem," Deutsch LA's CEO, Mike Sheldon, told Yahoo! Shine by phone.
Deutsch LA teamed up with Diamond Foods to come up with a solution. "We built an algorithm with 500 bags of popcorn tested in numerous types of microwaves of different wattages, to find the ideal time in which a bag of popcorn is going to cook all the kernels without burning any of them," Tokusato explained.
The result: The Perfect Pop app, which is calibrated to make Pop Secret pop up perfectly (and is supposed to also work with other types of microwave popcorn). The free app officially launches on Monday but, thanks to a stint in the iTunes App store's "What's Hot" section recently, more than 78,000 people have already downloaded it.
We decided to put the app to the test ourselves. Yahoo! Shine writer Elise Sole popped six bags of microwave popcorn, two each from Orville Redenbacher, Pop Secret, and Act II, with and without using Perfect Pop. (All varieties were standard butter flavor.) Here's what she found:
Pop Secret: Instructions call for 4 minutes in the microwave, but warns that the popcorn could be ready in just a minute and a half.
With the app: It told us to shut off the microwave at 1 minute, 37 seconds. The popcorn wasn't burned.
Without the app: It popped for the full 4 minutes and burned.
Act II: Instructions say that popping time depends on your microwave. We went with 3 minutes.
With the app,: It told us to stop the microwave at 2 minutes and 56 seconds. The popcorn wasn't burned.
Without the app: It popped for the full 3 minutes and didn't burn.
Orville Redenbacher: Instructions call for 2 minutes and 30 seconds in the microwave.
With the app: It told us to stop the microwave at 2 minutes and 15 seconds. It was burned.
Without the app: It popped for the full 2 minutes and 30 seconds and burned.
Then we remembered the preprogrammed popcorn setting on the microwave. We took two more bags of Pop Secret, fired up Perfect Pop, and checked it out.
With the preprogrammed popcorn setting: The microwave shut off automatically after 2 minutes, 17 seconds. The popcorn wasn't burned, but it wasn't fully popped either.
With the app: It popped for 2 minutes, 50 seconds before the app gave us a red "Uh-oh!" message and said the microphone couldn't hear the popping. We hit the "resume" button and, 12 seconds later, the smell of burning popcorn forced us to turn off the microwave ourselves. Six seconds after that, the app dinged, indicating the popcorn was ready. It was burned.
User error could play a part in the app mishaps, Sheldon told Yahoo! Shine. "The microphone [on the smartphone] needs to be pointed toward the microwave and as close to the microwave is as feasible in order to get the best results," he explained. The age of your microwave and the elevation of your house can also affect results, Tokusato added.
Also: The preprogrammed popcorn setting doesn't always work, either. "The popcorn setting of a microwave does not recognize the type of popcorn, the brand of popcorn, or the thickness of the bag itself," Sheldon said. "It's the thing that gets 400 people a week twittering about why they burned their popcorn. It's kind of a placebo button."source