Today it is primarily popped in small bags in the microwave, but popcorn has been around well before individuals had modern conveniences or even electricity for that matter.
History tells us that the variety of corn used for popping has been around for more than 5,000 years. It is believed by archaeologists and researchers to be the oldest of a group of five sweet corns: Indian corn, pod corn, popcorn, sweet corn, and field corn. While popcorn originated in Mexico, it quickly spread with explorers to Asia, Europe, and eventually North America.
In its early days, popcorn was thrown on sizzling hot stones around the fire, and the game was to catch the popped pieces as they scattered. Eventually “poppers” were invented, and ancient poppers made of soapstone, pottery and metal have been found in Indian excavation sites. These pots had tri-pod legs and would sit directly in the fire to pop the corn.
Popcorn was enjoyed by many cultures. Some learned to dress it with oil for added flavor. Early American colonists put sugar on the popped corn and enjoyed it as breakfast. This is believed to be a precursor to the puffed corn cereals enjoyed today.
Eventually popcorn became synonymous with the “big screen,” as a snack enjoyed during theatre movies. However, when televisions were invented and people stayed at home for entertainment, popcorn enthusiasm waned for years. It wasn’t until the invention of the microwave oven, and the convenience it offered individuals to enjoy popcorn while watching TV, that popcorn sales rebounded.
Today, the public eats over one billion pounds of popcorn per year, and the popcorn industry rakes in over $200 billion in sales annually. Popcorn comes in many flavors. However, traditional butter flavor remains one of the most popular.
Popcorn can also be a healthy part of one’s diet. Plain popcorn (low-fat varieties without a lot of salt, oil or artificial butter) is a very good source of fiber and can help curb appetite when dieting.
The next time you grab a handful of popcorn, think about its long history as a snack food for people around the world.