Who doesn’t love popcorn? The yummy salty kernels have been enjoyed around the world for thousands of years. It’s a staple at the movies and state fairs; it’s decorative as tree garland at the holidays, it’s delicious, and lucky for us, it’s also nutritious. With National Popcorn Day being January 19th, it’s the perfect time to celebrate this all-American snack with some popcorn history and trivia.
The History of Popcorn
The history of popcorn can be traced to the Americas where corn is a staple food. Native Americans are credited with being the first to discover popping corn. The oldest known kernels were found in a cave in New Mexico and determined to be some 5,600 years old. But evidence of popcorn has also been discovered throughout Central and South America. It was discovered that the Aztec Indians used popcorn for eating as well as for decorating clothing.
Colonists adopted the popular snack food and even ate it with milk and sugar, similar to the way we eat breakfast cereal today. They also cooked it up with molasses as a variation of kettle corn.
When people started attending the “talking pictures” of the late 1920s, popcorn was served up while people enjoyed the show, and the traditional partnership of movies and popcorn continues to this day.
Popcorn’s Health Benefits
A cup of air-popped popcorn has only 30 calories, is fat-free, sugar-free, and cholesterol-free. This tasty snack is a great source of fiber, complex carbohydrates, is naturally gluten-free, and contains a number of essential vitamins. Popcorn is one of the best “whole grain” snacks you can choose to stave off those hunger pangs, especially if you skip the added “butter”— movie theater butter is made of partially-hydrogenated soybean oil that’s been colored and flavored, and each tablespoon contains about 130 calories and lots of unhealthy trans fats.
What About GMOs?
According to the Popcorn Board, there are no known GMO crops of popcorn in the U.S. “All popcorn is GMO free, even if it not labeled non-GMO.” The only modification popcorn has undergone over the years comes from farmers: since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have been modifying crops to produce a better and more reliable food supply.
Here are 12 interesting kernels of trivia about popcorn to enjoy:
- The first popcorn machine was developed in 1885 in Chicago by Charles Cretors. It was mobile and ran on gasoline.
- Most of the corn used for popcorn in the U.S. is grown in the “Corn Belt” states of the U.S., which includes Nebraska, the country’s largest producer of popcorn.
- Americans consume 14 billion quarts of popcorn annually—that translates to 43 quarts per person!
- It would take 352,028,160 popped kernels to make a trail of popcorn that stretched from New York to Los Angeles.
- Popcorn is a special type of flint corn that has its own unique size, shape, starch level, and moisture content, with a hard shell and a soft starchy interior. You can pop other types of corn, but they don’t taste as good.
- Regardless of the size or shape, almost all popcorn kernels pop at a temperature of 356°F (180°C).
- Microwave popcorn was introduced to Americans in 1981.
- Kernels can reach heights of 3 feet when popped!
- There are approximately 1,600 kernels in 1 cup of un-popped popcorn.
- Americans eat more popcorn than any other country, with fall being the most popular time of year.
- Kernels that don’t pop are known as “old maids” or “spinsters.”
- Orville Redenbacher starting growing popping corn in 1919 when he was just 12 years old. The brand is the #1 selling in the world today.
Kettle Corn Recipe
Here’s a tasty recipe to enjoy!
Oil for popping
1/2 cup popcorn kernels (unpopped)
3 tablespoons sugar
Salt to taste
Add just enough oil to cover the bottom of a medium-size pot and heat. Add the popcorn and sprinkle the sugar on top. Cover the pot with a lid and shake vigorously and continuously over the burner until the popping stops. Add salt to taste and serve immediately.
Information provided in part by the The Popcorn Board.