• Dried flint corn hanging at Fat Pig Farm (Kitti Gould)Source: Kitti Gould
There are two ways to do it, one requires gadgets, the other just a sieve.
Camellia Ling Aebischer

30 Aug 2019 - 9:46 AM  UPDATED 2 Feb 2021 - 2:54 PM

--- You can watch all five seasons of Gourmet Farmer via SBS On Demand right now ---


Popcorn isn’t just the name of a crunchy movie snack – it’s also the corn variety namesake. Popcorn kernels are small, starchy and typically best for one thing: popping.

These misunderstood grains have had their corn potential overlooked for so long until someone somewhere realised they can do so much more. Plain old popcorn can join the ranks of polenta, cornbread and grits in your house with the help of a high powered blender and a little creativity.

There are two methods of turning this snack food into a dinner food – one takes the traditional polenta route and the other a more pop and strain method.

Grinding the grain

To make polenta using dried popcorn kernels, you’ll need some heavy-duty equipment. It’s a matter of grinding the grain, just like any other corn destined for cooking – except this time we’re not in a commercial corn mill.

If you’re lucky enough to own a fancy hand or electric grain grinder, then read no further. However, for us lowly folk who can only afford to grind coffee beans and spices, you could either use a high-powered blender, or plain old coffee/spice grinder to blitz those popcorn kernels into oblivion.

As expected, you might be grinding for a while if using a small spice grinder, and the pieces may end up a tad irregular. Whatever grinding implement (you can even use a mortar and pestle if you're eager), shake the final product through a large mesh sieve to remove any unpleasantly large corn chunks so you end up with a consistent cook.

After the grind, it’s pretty much standard polenta procedure from here on out. A slow blip on the stove, followed by a chunk of butter and healthy grating of cheese should do the trick.

Try this recipe
Matthew's soft polenta

You can use white polenta made from white corn, if you can find it, for a more subtle result. Use the polenta as an accompaniment to a ragu of some kind, or ossobuco. Italians have told me to only stir in one direction, but I’ve found that it has made no difference to the end result when I reverse the stirring to rest my arm.

Popping the corn

Option B for creating popcorn polenta places a little more emphasis on the ‘pop’ part.

After popping the corn, blanch in boiling water in batches until softened. Once soft, pass through a large mesh sieve or medium strainer basket to remove husks. Then, thin as necessary with blanching liquid and season with salt, butter and cheese.

The pop method yields a softer, slightly less granular polenta dish, more similar to American grits. It is, however, said to have a stronger nutty flavour and distinct popcorn taste.

If you want to impress someone with polenta that tastes like popcorn, this is the best method.

Corn facts

Unfortunately though popcorn can be polenta, it doesn’t typically go both ways. The specific corn used for popcorn possesses characteristics that allow it to form the beloved snack. There are four main types of corn: popcorn, flint corn, dent corn and sweetcorn.

Flint corn can be popped, but can also be ground down for polenta or cornmeal, as demonstrated on Gourmet Farmer by Matthew Evans’ soft polenta recipe. Flint corn is also sometimes hung decoratively as it grows in a range of colours and can be commonly seen throughout autumn in North America.

Flint corn is picked dry, just like popcorn and its agricultural cousin dent corn. Dent corn earns its name from the dents in the tips of the kernels that form as the grain dries out (you may have seen it in bird or rodent feed mixes). It’s primarily used in animal feed and has a small role in food production.

Dent corn and its young eating cousin, sweetcorn, are un-poppable. Sweet corn contains high levels of sugar and soft starches and differs from all other corns in that it is picked fresh for our eating pleasure.

Visit the Gourmet Farmer website for recipes, the episode guide and more.

Creamy corn salad (esquites)

Everywhere in Mexico City there are food stands selling tacos and enchiladas. But my personal favourite are the ones that sell corn, including equites, or corn in a cup. It's juicy, sweet and salty.

Venezuelan corn bread (arepa)

You can have an arepa for breakfast, lunch or dinner: It's perfect with eggs in the morning, it makes an excellent gluten-free sandwich, and it's great as bread with a soup or a stew at night. 

Corn fritters

You know it will be a good day when you start it with these golden rays of fritter sunshine! Tailor them to your hunger levels with crispy bacon and an egg, or simply some fresh baby spinach and cherry tomatoes. 

Popcorn bags

Whether they're for a lunchbox or afternoon snack, party food or a movie-watching treat, these popcorn bags are quick and healthy. Try variations like cinnamon, choc-coconut and maple butter popcorn for flavour-filled fun.

Boiled corn (jagung katema)

This simple Indonesian recipe for corn, mung beans and pumpkin is teamed with a quick and easy chilli sauce for a fresh and fiery side dish.

Corn to corn chip: This is how the magic happens
From corn to chip, have you ever wondered how these moreish munchies come to life? Follow the trail of crumbs we've left behind...
Southern fried chicken with corn salad

The secret to Shane Delia's fried chicken is that sweet paprika coating. With a barbecued corn salad, this dish is where the texture, sweetness and smoky crunch all collide. #RecipeForLife

People are popping corn with their hair straightener and it's weird
The internet seldom disappoints when it comes to crazy viral trends. And the latest one is no different.