It may be a bit of a stretch to suggest that popcorn has changed the world as we know it, but it sure has been one of America’s favorite snacks for a long long time. Below is some brief history and fun facts.
We have all been told that corn began as a wild grass called teosinte in southwestern Mexico and was probably first cultivated as a domesticated crop around 9,000 years ago, but they believe “popcorn” probably first showed up in Peru some 6,500 to 7,000 years ago. Popcorn differs from other types of maize because it has a thicker hull which allows pressure from the heated water to build and eventually bursts it open. Also, the starch inside becomes gelatinous while being heated and when the hull bursts, it spills out and cools, giving it its familiar popcorn shape.
Believe it or not, popcorn was once a popular breakfast food. Ahead of its time and very likely a role model for breakfast cereals during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In fact, popcorn was once eaten just as we eat cereal today. Long before the advent of the corn flake, Ella Kellogg enjoyed her popcorn ground with milk or cream. Ella and her husband John Kellogg also understood that popcorn was a whole grain and could be a great alternative for the breakfast food market.
Another inventor, Charles Cretor of Chicago, is often credited with the modern day version of popcorn, thanks to his invention of the mobile popcorn cart in the 1880s. It’s worth mentioning that when popcorn was first sold inside movie theaters, almost 100 years ago, it actually helped buoy the business which was flailing at the time as the country entered the Great Depression.
With popcorn sales ensured by Hollywood, the big business of popcorn moved on to targeting a home audience, particularly after Americans began watching television during the 1940s. Even though the first microwave was invented in 1946, the appliance didn’t become commonplace in American kitchens until the 1980s, which was a match made in heaven for popcorn since it happened to pop just as well in microwavable packaging as it did on the stove. The microwave’s arrival also coincided with a fitness boom, making popcorn the perfect relatively healthy snack for diet-conscious consumers. The first microwave popcorn was released in 1981 and contained perishable butter and required refrigeration. Another version, by Pillsbury, came frozen.
In the early-1980s microwave popcorn became available nationally and was generating millions in sales. By 1984, a shelf-stable version hit stores, and sales climbed even higher. Americans bought +$250 million worth of popcorn in 1986, setting off an all-out battle between snack food companies that attempted to corner the market.
Unfortunately for Nabisco and General Mills, one agricultural scientist had already become the “Popcorn King”, his name was Orville Redenbacher, a skinny, bespectacled man from Indiana with an immaculate suit, bow tie, and swoop of hair. Redenbacher was a Purdue-educated farmer who became famous for tinkering with hybrid varieties of corn and in 1965 Redenbacher and his research partner Charlie Bowman successfully created a kernel that would expand twice as much as the yellow corn Americans were familiar with. They called their hybrid “snowflake,” for its shape and ability to expand to up to 40 times its original size.
Americans now consume +17 billion quarts of this whole-grain snack called “popcorn”. For reference, that would mean essentially every man, woman, and child in America needs to eat about 45 quarts of popcorn on average per year. There’s no question, Americans love their popcorn… below are some interesting tidbits and fun facts. (Source: tastecooking.com, popcorn.org, foodcrumbles.com)
Did You Know
> Companies that own microwavable popcorn brands have raked in +$1 Billion in revenue from popcorn in each of the past few years and sales continue to increase.
> Early Native Americans believed a spirit lived inside each kernel of popcorn. When heated, the spirit grew angry, burst out of its home, and fled into the air as a disgruntled puff of steam.
> Unpopped kernels are called “Old Maids”.
> The global Popcorn Market size is expected to reach +$6.25 billion by 2028, registering a CAGR of +9.5% over the forecast period from now through 2028, according to a new report by Million Insights.
> Popcorn is the state snack of Illinois.
> During the World War II sugar shortage Americans ate 3 times more popcorn.
> Popcorn is entirely Gluten -Free.
> Fruit Flavors are now “popping up.” I’m told these snacks are cooked in smaller batches for the ultimate freshness, texture, and flavor properties. One such flavor is fruity favorites such as pineapple and strawberry, and yes I believe this is a west coast trend.
> Ideal popping temperature is 400 Fahrenheit.
> Trending oils to cook in include coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed ghee, nuts, or a drizzle of peanut butter or dark chocolate.
> If you made a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles, you’d need more than 352,028,160 popped kernels.
> When popcorn pops in a round shape it is called mushroom popcorn and popcorn which pops in unpredictable shapes is called butterfly popcorn.
> The WWII sugar shortage prompted Americans to eat 3x more popcorn… plus the cost was cheaper than many other alternatives.
> Most U.S. popcorn is grown in the Midwest, but Nebraska is the nation’s largest producer of popcorn, with an annual harvest of +300 million pounds on about 67,000 acres.