Trader Joe’s on-the-cob microwave popcorn tries and fails to fix a problem that doesn’t exist


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Photo: @Lesia.Valentain via Twenty20

First things first, I’m a popcorn fiend. It’s a learned trait for which my fiancé and many, many hours spent binge-watching The Office are responsible. So not only do I know my way around a kernal,  but I also have the art of popping the perfect bowl of fluffy white goodness down. And after making a batch using Trader Joe’s new Corn on the Cob Popping Corn—because yes, that’s a thing—I totally understand why it’s causing the internet to go into debate mode. Sure, the snack is, ummm, fun—but it’s certainly not the most effective way to get your popcorn fix. Okay, I’ll say it: It’s straight-up dumb.

As one of the latest additions to the healthy grocer’s always-impressive snack lineup, the product is essentially a corncob of dried-out kernels wrapped in a paper label that you can stick in your microwave. After 90 seconds, you’ll wind up with popcorn—but certainly not a heaping bowl of it.

Now, nutrition-wise, this $2 product is pretty solid without any weird added ingredients. And per 2.5 cup serving (and you’re supposed to wind up with two per cob…but we’ll get to that), you get 27 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein. Air-popped corn kernels, on the other hand, come in at 16 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein for the same amount.

The uptick in fiber and protein piquing my interest, I decided to give these cobs a pop. But, in order to supersede my devotion to my precious air-popper, the silly-looking corncobs, which bear a—TBH totally unappetizing—resemblance to what my mom keeps in a metal trash bin for squirrel food in the winter, had high bar to break. Here’s exactly what went down when I sampled the new cob on the block.

I tried Trader Joe’s corn-on-the-cob popcorn so you don’t have to—here’s what happened.

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Photo: Tehrene Firman

1. One pop, and then it stops

After unwrapping the corncob from its plastic wrapper, instructions say to replace it lengthwise in the included paper bag—or, um, as TJ’s dubs it, the “popping sack”—and then to close that with exactly three tight folds. Done and done.

After setting the microwave to 90 seconds on high as directed, I waited impatiently. (Don’t pretend like you’ve never watched a microwave work its magic, second by second.) As seconds passed by the dozen, I wondered if it was my appliance that was broken, because nothing was happening by way of pops. Then—finally—there was a very abrupt (and loud!) boom of kernels, all at once. Like a firework, minus the show.

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Photo: Tehrene Firman

2. So…where’s the rest of it?

After the time was up, I was excited to check the bag for what ensued in my microwave during the popcorn explosion of 2018. Indeed, I had popcorn in the bag, and I’ll admit it smelled super-good. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to smell. Only about half of the popped kernels were edible, partly because all the ones that were still stuck to the cob just flaked off when I tried to get at ’em. Basically, this corncob had one job to do, and it failed miserably.

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Photo: Tehrene Firman

3. Final, underwhelmed thoughts

While there was still a decent amount for one person (who has a small appetite, natch), the fact that a single underdelivering, prepared-as-directed corncob took up more real estate in my waste bin than stomach riled me up. And to be honest, the popcorn itself isn’t nearly as good as what I get from my air popper. It’s not as fluffy, super dry, and overall pretty meh.

Of course I still ate it—well, what I could eat of it—but if I had to choose between schools of pop thought, it would take me less than a microwaved hot second to pick the cob-less version. This gimmicky snack asks you to pay more money for less and, most egregiously, worse-tasting popcorn. Although it’s a fun idea and healthy, what it’s not is necessary, so I can safely say it won’t be part of my weekly Trader Joe’s haul. I’m leaving the corncobs to the squirrels.

If you’re going to have a late-night snack, just make sure it checks these three boxes. Or, find out which three nutrient-rich snacks nutritionists reach for when hunger strikes.

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