Food historians believe it dates back 8,700 years. A few years ago, Joey Chestnut, the champion of food eating contests, swallowed 32 servings of this snack in 8 minutes. A recent survey found that 92% of Americans can’t get enough of it, munching 17 billion quarts a year. Author Lexi Jacobs reports that it would fill the Empire State Building eighteen times.
Have you figured it yet?
It originally came from teosinte, a large wild grass native to Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. According to Science Daily, archeologists Anthony Ranere and Dolores Piperno found “rock shelters or caves where people lived thousands of years ago.” They discovered that forests had been cleared to make room for crops.
Similar “ears” were found at the Bat Caves in New Mexico.
It was a basic food for early Aztecs. They ate it as well as made garlands, ceremonial headdresses, necklaces, and ornaments for their gods, like Tlaloc (below), the god of rain and fertility.
The Spanish Conquistadores discovered “momochitl” – a kernel that bursts into a white flower when heated.
Early American settlers planted maize crops. By the mid-1800s corn was an important part of midwestern agriculture. It was nicknamed “prairie gold” – a very different gold than what the Spanish Conquistadores sought.
We call this ancient snack, popcorn. These days the world loves popcorn as much as their ancestors.
The best variety of corn for popcorn is called flint. Traditionally it was made by popping in pots over a flame or tossing cobs into the fire. Inventive Americans changed that. In 1885 Charles Cretors invented the first commercial popcorn machine. The machine could add butter and salt during popping. In 1892 James Nvoods patented a machine that coated fresh popped corn in a sweet sugar syrup. Four years later brothers Frederick and Lewis Rueckheim combined crunchy popcorn and salty peanuts coated in molasses.
They called it Cracker Jack.
By the 1920s and 30s popcorn vendors sold mostly at street fairs, festivals, and sporting events.
Hollywood stepped in.
Americans fell in love with movies. Sound, dialogue, music, and new effects led to audiences as large as 90 million people a week. According to pop.org, movie theaters “redefined the evening from one of champagne to one of popcorn and soda.”
During the Great Depression people could buy a “luxury snack” of popcorn for 10 cents a bag. It was a real bargain for a hungry audience.
Today popcorn has different flavors, shapes, colors, and cooking styles. You can buy it at the movies, make it at home on the stove, fireplace, or in the microwave. There are pre-popped bags and tins and many flavors such as bacon ranch and apple pie to caramel cinnamon and cheesecake. Among numerous brands, there’s Skinny Pop, The Popcorn Factory, and the most popular, Orville Redenbacher’s.
Specialties like hillbilly hash mixes sweet and salty crunch peanut butter popcorn with candy corn, and peanuts. According to Cooking with Carlee, hillbilly hash is “a match made in heaven.” There are also many different popcorn balls that add everything from cheese to chocolate and marshmallows to caramel. Each holiday has something new and delicious.
If you want more details, check out the chart published by The Popcorn Board (pop.org):
One survey found that 73% of us prefer classic butter and salt during popcorn’s busiest seasons, spring and summer. According to Lucille Fairweather in Amazing Popcorn Secrets, a kernel bursting into popcorn can fly 3 feet in the air.
That’s something you need to know.
The new kid on the block is Pipcorn. It’s made from mini heirloom popcorn kernels that, according to their website, “provide better taste, superior nutrition, and environmental sustainability.” Because of their small size, pipcorn is less likely to stick in the teeth.
Whether popcorn or pipcorn, at home or in the movies, chow down and enjoy!