With the rising popularity of organic food comes organic popcorn. While “organic” may seem like a loaded term with vague meanings and implications, the USDA sets out clear criteria for organic products. Once you understand the USDA requirements and the organic growing process, you’ll be able to decide if organic popcorn is the right choice for you.
For popcorn to be labeled “organic,” at least 95% of its ingredients must be organic. All organic popcorn comes from organically grown corn that meets USDA regulations. Although growing organic corn is time-consuming and costly, organic farming practices provide valuable environmental benefits.
But what are those specific regulations and benefits? Read on to learn about the production of organic popcorn, organic popcorn labels, and the pros and cons of buying organic popcorn.
How Is Organic Popcorn Grown and Made?
Organic popcorn comes from organically grown corn and other organic ingredients, like butter and oils. The USDA has strict regulations that growers must follow when producing organic products. According to the USDA, to receive organic certification, growers must follow agricultural production practices that:
- foster resource recycling
- promote ecological balance
- maintain and improve soil and water quality
- minimize the use of synthetic materials
- conserve biodiversity
In many cases, these practices involve using crop rotation strategies to manage the nutrients in the soil effectively. The USDA permits using pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides, but they must be USDA-approved as organic.
The USDA also regulates which methods and substances growers can use while organically growing corn and other crops. For example, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) cannot receive organic certification under current USDA regulations.
Is Organic Growing Different From Normal Growing?
Growing corn organically means growers have to use different solutions when responding to pests and diseases. For years, corn earworm plagued organic corn harvests, deterring consumers from buying wormy ears of organic corn.
While non-organic growers were able to control corn earworm with synthetic pesticides or opt for the insect-killing GMO, Bt corn, organic growers had to accept they would inevitably lose part of their harvest (and profits) to corn earworm.
Luckily, the development of organic pesticides using spinosad in recent years has provided organic growers access to an organic pesticide that targets corn earworm. These products enable organic corn growers to produce larger and better harvests than in the past.
Are wondering if your popcorn is vegan, read the article How To Make Sure Your Popcorn Is Vegan
How Do You Read Organic Popcorn Labels?
The USDA has four organic label options for food products, including the previously mentioned “organic” label. You may find popcorn with any of these labels, so it’s imperative to understand what they all mean so you can make informed decisions.
What Is “100 Percent Organic” Popcorn?
Brands may label their products “100 percent organic” only if they contain exclusively organic products, just as the name implies. This specification excludes salt and water, which the USDA considers “natural.”
In most cases, un-popped organic popcorn kernels sold alone are “100 percent organic.” Un-popped corn kernels can receive this label because they are minimally processed and usually have no additives.
What Does the “Organic” Label on Popcorn Mean?
As mentioned earlier, the “organic” label allows up to 5% of a product’s ingredients to be non-organic. Of course, that 5% can’t be just anything.
The remaining ingredients may be non-organic agricultural products or non-agricultural products from the USDA’s National List.
Additionally, if an organic version of a product is commercially available, “organic” products must use that ingredient rather than the non-organic alternative.
Why Does Popcorn Say, “Made with Organic ___”?
Your popcorn might come with the “made with organic ___” label if at least 70% of its ingredients are organic.
Brands can’t label this popcorn “organic” and they must specify which ingredients are organic.
Since popcorn doesn’t have many components, most “made with organic ___” popcorn contains organic corn but may have other non-organic ingredients added to it.
Where Are Specific Organic Ingredients Listed on Popcorn?
If your popcorn doesn’t meet the 70% threshold, it may still have some organic ingredients. For example, even if your microwaveable popcorn didn’t come from organic corn, the producer may have elected to use organic oil or butter.
You can find out if your popcorn contains any organic ingredients by checking the ingredients statement on its packaging.
Do you want to know the difference between white and yellow popcorn? Read the article here
What Are the Benefits of Organic Popcorn?
Many USDA requirements force organic growers to use more environmentally sustainable and conservative practices.
When you buy organic popcorn, you know that the corn was grown using environmentally friendly methods. Consumers have no way of verifying if growers use sustainable methods to grow non-organic corn.
Additionally, organic popcorn is GMO-free. While science says GMOs are no threat to human health, consumers have other concerns about GMOs in their food.
One of the goals of organic growing is to preserve biodiversity and heritage cultivars. Many supporters of organic food view GMOs as a threat to natural biodiversity.
What Are the Drawbacks of Organic Popcorn?
When comparing popcorn brands in your grocery store, you’ve likely noticed that organic popcorn comes with a higher price tag than non-organic popcorn. Because growing corn organically is more labor-intensive and tends to have a poorer harvest than growing corn using conventional methods, organic corn and its products cost more too.
As organic growing practices improve and become more popular, these issues will likely become less severe.
One issue with the “organic” label is that some people falsely believe organic foods are inherently healthier than non-organic foods.
Many people think that growers do not spray organic foods with pesticides or other toxins, but this is not true. Organic growers still use organic pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. While these products are generally less toxic than synthetic ones, they can still cause harm to health and the environment.
Is Organic Popcorn Worth It?
Environmentally conscious consumers may want to opt for organic popcorn to guarantee they consume only sustainably produced foods. For others, regular popcorn is a fine choice.