How many cups of unpopped popcorn are in a bag?

Popcorn is a beloved snack food enjoyed by people of all ages. Its light, fluffy texture and slightly sweet, salty taste make it the perfect snack for movie nights, parties, or just a cozy night at home. But have you ever wondered just how much unpopped popcorn is in those bags you buy at the grocery store or movie theater? How many cups of kernels are in there waiting to transform into popcorn? In this article, we’ll break down how many cups of unpopped popcorn you get in different size bags.

What Is Popcorn?

Popcorn is a type of corn kernel that pops when heated. The kernel contains a small amount of water stored inside a circle of soft starch. As the kernel is heated, this water expands and changes to steam. The pressure from the steam causes the starch to expand until finally the kernel pops open. The starch spills out into that familiar light, fluffy shape we know as popcorn.

So popcorn starts as hard, dense kernels and expands into a much lighter, airy form when popped. The volume of popcorn after popping is much greater than the volume of the unpopped kernels. This is why a small amount of unpopped popcorn yields a large bowlful of popped popcorn.

Popcorn Kernel Sizes

Popcorn kernels come in a range of sizes, from small to large. The size of the kernel affects how big the popped corn will be. Smaller kernels will produce smaller popped pieces, while large kernels make bigger popped pieces. Here are the general kernel sizes:

  • Baby rice – Very tiny rice-shaped kernels. Produces very small popped pieces.
  • Hulless – Small, oval-shaped kernels with no outer hull. Pops into small balls.
  • Mushroom – Slightly bigger, rounder kernels. Makes average-sized popped popcorn.
  • Ladyfinger – Large, long, skinny kernels. Results in big popcorn pieces.

Most bags of popcorn will contain a mix of these kernel sizes. So you get both small and big popped pieces in the finished popcorn. The kernel size ratio can affect the texture of the popped corn. More small kernels may give a finer, crunchier texture versus lots of big kernels making a Styrofoam-like texture.

How Popcorn Pops

When you heat popcorn kernels, the water inside the kernel heats up and turns to steam. The pressure from the steam forces the starch in the kernel to expand. The hull of the kernel eventually breaks open from the pressure and the starch spills out, solidifying into the familiar popcorn shape we know.

Popping popcorn requires heating the kernels evenly and rapidly to around 400°F. There are a few different ways to achieve this:

  • Stovetop – Kernels are placed in a pot or pan with a small amount of oil. The pot is covered and heated over high heat, shaking occasionally.
  • Microwave – Kernels go into a special microwavable popcorn bag or bowl. The kernels are heated by microwave energy.
  • Hot air popper – Hot air is circulated over the kernels to pop them without oil.
  • Fire – Kernels can be popped over an open fire or embers.

No matter the popping method, the key is applying fast, direct heat to the kernels so the water inside rapidly turns to steam and causes the popcorn to pop.

Shelf Life of Popcorn

When stored properly in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, unpopped popcorn can last up to 2 years past any “best by” date printed on the package.

The main thing that causes popcorn to go stale is moisture. When stored in humid conditions, popcorn kernels can absorb moisture from the air. This causes the starch inside the kernel to lose its poppability. Stale popcorn kernels won’t pop as well or may not pop at all.

Freezing unpopped popcorn can extend its shelf life. Frozen kernels stay fresh for up to 4 years. Make sure to store frozen popcorn in moisture-proof packaging.

Popped popcorn has a much shorter shelf life than unpopped kernels. Eaten immediately after popping, popcorn can be crisp for up to 15 minutes. Over time, it loses its crunch as the starch dries out. Storing popped popcorn in an airtight container extends its freshness to about 3 days. After that, it starts to taste stale.

Popcorn Bag Sizes

Popcorn is sold in bag sizes ranging from individual snack-size bags to large bulk sizes. Here are some standard popcorn bag sizes you’ll see:

Snack Size Bags

These smaller bags are meant for one person. Snack size bags include:

  • 1.5-2.5 ounces – Mini snack bags sold individually.
  • 3 ounces – Small microwave popcorn bag for one.
  • 10 ounces – Large movie theater popcorn tub.

Family or Multi-Serving Sizes

Larger bags provide popcorn for more than one person:

  • 5 ounces – Small microwave bag for 2-3 people.
  • 16 ounces – Medium microwave bag for 3-4 people.
  • 24 ounces – Large microwave bag for 4+ people.

Bulk Sizes

Bulk bags are ideal for large gatherings, parties, or making big batches of popcorn:

  • 1-5 pounds – Medium bulk bags.
  • 10-20 pounds – Large bulk bags.
  • 25+ pounds – Extra-large bulk sizes.

The size bag you buy depends on how much popcorn you need to serve. Snack sizes are great for an individual movie night while big bulk bags keep the popcorn flowing for a crowd.

How Many Cups of Unpopped Kernels in Bags

Now that we’ve covered popcorn basics, let’s get into how many cups of unpopped kernels come in different size popcorn bags.

Popcorn packaging rarely lists the cup amount of unpopped corn inside. But we can estimate the cups of kernels based on the bag size and typical yields.

Here are some general guidelines for cups of unpopped popcorn per bag size:

Snack Size Bags

Bag Size Cups of Unpopped Kernels
1.5-2.5 oz 1/4 to 1/3 cup
3 oz microwave bag 1/3 cup
10 oz movie theater tub 3/4 to 1 cup

As you can see, the individual “single serving” sized bags start with around 1/4 to 1/3 cup of unpopped kernels. This amount expands to fill the bag when popped. Movie theater tubs are larger and so contain closer to 1 cup of kernels.

Family and Multi-Serving Sizes

Bag Size Cups of Unpopped Kernels
5 oz 1/2 cup
16 oz 1 1/4 cups
24 oz 2 cups

For bags meant for multiple people, you get about 1/2 cup kernels in smaller 5 oz bags up to 2 cups in larger 24 oz family size microwave bags.

Bulk Sizes

Bag Size Cups of Unpopped Kernels
1 lb 2 1/4 cups
2 lb 4 1/2 cups
5 lb 11 cups
10 lb 22 cups
20 lb 44 cups

Bulk popcorn bags start around 2 cups for 1 pound bags and scale up dramatically for big 10+ pound sizes. Very large bulk bags may contain over 40 cups of unpopped kernels!

Popcorn Yield from Unpopped to Popped

We know how many cups of kernels are in the bag, but how much popped popcorn volume do those unpopped cups yield? Here are some typical popcorns yields based on unpopped volume:

  • 1 cup unpopped kernels = 6-8 cups popped popcorn
  • 1/4 cup unpopped kernels = 1 1/2 to 2 cups popped
  • 1/3 cup unpopped kernels = 2 to 2 2/3 cups popped

A general rule of thumb is that 1 cup of unpopped popcorn will expand to fill a 6 to 8 cup bowl when popped. Every 1/4 cup of kernels yields about 2 cups popped. So those little 1.5 ounce snack bags with 1/4 cup unpopped corn will give you a decent 2 cups of popcorn to munch on.

Yields can vary based on the popcorn variety, kernel sizes, and popping method. But in general plan on at least a 6x expansion from the unpopped volume to popped volume.

Tips for Popping the Maximum Amount

To get the highest possible yield from your popcorn, follow these tips:

  • Pop in a little oil – This helps transfer heat efficiently to the kernels.
  • Use a pot with a tight-fitting lid – The lid traps the steam released by the kernels.
  • Shake the pot – This agitates the kernels so they cook evenly.
  • Remove from heat when popping slows – This prevents burning.
  • Let sit 1-2 minutes in the covered pot – Kernels will continue popping off heat.

Proper heat and steam distribution are key for maximum popping. Following these steps will help you get every last kernel to pop!


From tiny snack bags to huge bulk sacks, different sizes of popcorn contain varying cups of unpopped kernels. Individual serving bags have around 1/4 to 1/3 cup kernels, enough to fill that little bag when popped. Big bulk bags are measured in pounds and can hold over 20 cups of raw popcorn.

No matter what size bag you buy, you can expect each cup of kernels to expand into at least 6 cups of fluffy popped corn. With proper popping technique, you can yield up to 8 cups per unpopped cup. So a little goes a long way when making popcorn at home. All you need is a 1/4 cup to satisfy a popcorn craving.

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