Popcorn is one of the best, most versatile snacks on the market; it can be sweet, salty, or a yummy combination of both, perfect for watching movies, or can be relatively healthy depending on the toppings. But what makes popcorn go from corn kernel to light-and-fluffy delight?  

Starch is what makes kernels turn into the shape of popcorn. It happens when the starch within the kernel bursts through the shell during cooking, inverting the popcorn. The starch then cools into a fluffy popcorn shape. 

The rest of this article describes the science behind kernels turning into popcorn shapes and the different kinds of popcorn shapes. It’ll also provide a guide to the different colors of popcorn kernels. So if you’re a popcorn lover wanting to learn more about the shapes into which the kernels transform, keep reading! 

Why Do Kernels Turn Into The Shape of Popcorn? 

Kernels turn into the shape of popcorn because the starch within the kernel heats up during cooking, bursts through the shell, and cools into the fluffy popcorn shape you’re used to seeing. 

Popcorn pops due to the failure of the kernel’s skin during heating. When the starch inside the kernel gets too hot, it explodes the kernel’s skin, inverting the popcorn. 

For the best results, the popcorn kernels should contain 13–14.5 percent moisture. The fracture point depends on the cooking temperature, and the popping noise occurs when the water vapor inside the kernel is released. 

What Kinds Of Popcorn Shapes Are There?

There are two kinds of popcorn shapes: butterfly and mushroom. These shapes have different textures and tastes, and the shapes are suited for different toppings. 

Butterfly popcorn kernels pop into unpredictable shapes with different knobs pointing in different directions. This shape is airy and fluffy, so it’s better suited for simple seasonings instead of heavy coats of ingredients—all you need is a little bit of butter and salt.

This is the kind of popcorn found at movie theaters. This shape occurs when the expansion of the hole in the kernel’s skin is uneven. The lobes of the kernel also expand away from each other. 

Butterfly popcorn is also sometimes called snowflake popcorn due to its delicate shape. This shape also tastes the best when consumed immediately after popping, as waiting too long will cause the popcorn to lose its crunch.  

My favorite butterfly popcorn kernels are the Country Harvest Popcorn kernels, available on Amazon.com. I like these kernels because they’re grown, processed, and packaged in the United States, and they consistently pop into a traditional butterfly-style shape. The flavor is also perfectly nutty and is delicious with just a little bit of salt! 

Mushroom popcorn has a sturdy, bulbous shape with fissures on the outer surface, which is well-suited for heavy coats of cheese, caramel, or candy. They also have a larger surface area that holds flavor exceptionally well. And the sturdier shape means that the popcorn is less likely to crumble. The mushroom shape occurs when the expansion of the hole in the kernel’s skin happens evenly. 

Mushroom shape popcorn stays fresh and crunchy longer than butterfly-shaped popcorn, so if you’re buying popcorn to pop in bulk, the mushroom shape is your best bet.

I like the Mushroom Popcorn Kernels by Princeton Popcorn from Amazon.com. This company is family-owned and located in Kansas. They have cultivated their kernels to pop extra large for a giant, delicious bite. These kernels are excellent for caramel corn or kettle corn. They also have a money-back satisfaction guarantee. 

A third shape similar to the butterfly shape is called white popcorn because it’s popped using white kernels. Some people believe that white popcorn is healthier than other kinds of popcorn because it’s made from whole-grain kernels that contain more fiber than other kernels. Popcorn made with these kernels is more tender than the other shapes.   

My favorite white popcorn kernels are the Amish Country Popcorn kernels on Amazon.com. The purchase of these kernels comes with a recipe guide eBook with fifteen yummy recipes. I also like these kernels because they’re non-GMO, gluten-free, and low-calorie. They’re also tree-nut and peanut-free, so if you or someone in your family has a nut allergy, this popcorn is safe for you!  

How Many Colors Of Popcorn Kernels Are There? 

There are four colors of popcorn kernels: yellow, white, red, and blue. There are also hulless popcorn kernels. If you’ve ever shopped for popcorn kernels, you may have noticed the different colors of popcorn kernels and wondered what the difference was among them. 

Here’s a guide: 

  • Yellow: Yellow popcorn kernels are the most common and affordable kernels. Popcorn made with yellow kernels has a slightly nutty flavor and a butterfly shape. 
  • White: White kernels have a neutral flavor, a great base for adding different flavors and seasonings.        
  • Red: Red popcorn kernels still pop white, and the popcorn has a nutty flavor and a flakey texture. I think the best red kernels are the Amish Country Popcorn Red Popcorn Kernels (available on Amazon.com) because they have a sweet flavor, and most of the kernels pop every time.  
  • Blue: These kernels are similar to the red kernels in texture and flavor. They pop into a mushroom shape. I like the Pilot Knob Comforts Gourmet Popcorn Kernels (also on Amazon.com) for blue kernels because the popcorn pops extra crispy and has a rich taste. The kernels are also sustainably grown.  

Another kind of kernel is the hulless popcorn kernel. If you hate getting the hard, yellow part of popcorn stuck in your teeth, then this might be the kind of kernel for you. All popcorn has a hull, but hulless popcorn is a variety of kernels with tiny and thin hulls that are less likely to bother you when you’re snacking on popcorn. 

Riehle’s Select Hulless Baby White Whole Grain Popcorn from Amazon.com rarely gets stuck in my teeth. This popcorn is also especially tender and GMO-free. You should note, though, that this popcorn isn’t recommended for air poppers.    


Food science is fascinating, and one of the coolest cooking processes is the transformation of popcorn from corn kernel to a fluffy, bite-sized snack. Both shapes of popcorn, butterfly, white, and mushroom, have their strengths and perks, and you can’t go wrong with either!

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