Popcorn is well known for it’s stardom in the movies. Typically served covered in butter in cardboard containers or boxes, it is almost a staple for any modern moviegoer. But popcorn has a much older and deeper story then simply a great companion for the movies. According to the Natural History Museum in Washington, there is evidence for popcorn being a food source as early as 6,700 years ago in Peru. From there it gradually made its way to Southwest America, appearing about 2,500 years ago.
Popcorn made it’s first commercial debut in the 1820s under the names Pearl or Nonpareil and rapidly gained popularity. By 1848 it was included in the Dictionary of Americanisms – Popcorn had officially made it’s mark! Unlike most treats, popcorn sales at movies increased during the Depression as it was a small luxury that was still affordable. Following the Depression the first popcorn machine was installed in a movie theater lobby and the trend has continued on.
Popcorn, like the name implies, is simply corn that has been popped open with heat. As the kernels are heated the moisture inside turns to steam. Eventually the pressure inside the kernel becomes too much for the outer shell and it bursts open. And that’s where it get’s interesting! The variety of toppings for popcorn are virtually endless. Butter can be melted over it, paprika or cinnamon can be sprinkled on top or various flavors can be mixed in. The popcorn can even be mixed with sugar and nuts to create a tasty cluster.
But the story of popcorn doesn’t end with movies and treats. With the growing market in heath food, popcorns role has been expanding. Leaving behind the heavy butter and sugar, it is actually quite a healthy snack. According to Joe Vinson, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton, popcorn has more antioxidants than any other snack idem. The traditional popcorn toppings are also changing to meet this new market. It is being dressed in simple olive oil and sea salt or coconut oil. Nutritional yeast is also used as a popular topping to give it a “cheesy” flavor and extra health kick.
We have also invented many new ways of popping popcorn: from the traditional stove top method, to air poppers, to microwaves, and even machines build just for popping popcorn, such as the Lekue popcorn maker (if you have never heard of this, you can look up Lekue popcorn maker reviews online, it´s my personal favorite).
How will popcorn be consumed in the years to come? Only time will tell but given it’s history it is sure to be a tasty part of our diet for many years to come.