No movie experience is complete without the buttery goodness of popcorn to accompany the experience. Loads of butter drizzled over a fresh batch of popcorn alongside a giant soda and loads of napkins have delighted moviegoers since the 1930s. Movie theaters didn’t allow popcorn inside until after the Great Depression since attendance at movies surged and people looked towards cheap entertainment. Street vendors popping the delicious treat would sell it outside of the theaters and patrons would bring popcorn inside. Movie theaters initially didn’t want to deal with the mess that accompanied having snacks inside but started to allow street vendors to sell popcorn in the lobby when they realized the profit they could make off snacks. During WWII while there were rationing and scarcity of sugar for other popular movie snacks, popcorn’s popularity surged at the movies (1).
History of popcorn
The ancient Aztecs helped popularize the snack to the world thousands of years back. Outside of a food source, it was used in ceremonial head dressings and decorations (2). Popcorn has also been found in ancient Peruvian tombs, as part of Zapotec tribes in Mexico and throughout North and South American native tribes. To make the popcorn in ancient times clay pots, oil and fires were utilized. It wasn’t until Charles Cretors modernized the way we eat popcorn with a steam-powered machine in a popcorn wagon in the late 1800s and introduced them throughout Chicago in 1893 (3). Percy Spencer, who helped to pioneer the microwave and got the patent for the microwave oven in 1947 experimented with heating popcorn amongst other foods.
How does popcorn pop?
- The components of a popcorn kernel consist of the hull, endosperm (starch), water, and the embryo.
- The droplet of water inside the kernel will start to expand when the heat is applied.
- Pressure will build up inside the kernel and will eventually explode (5).
What are the types of corn?
The main types of corn include popcorn, sweet corn, dent corn, flour, and flint corn (6).
- Popcorn: Will pop when heated, noted for the shiny kernels on the outside
- Sweet corn: Won’t become popcorn, what you typically see at the grocery store to boil and eat
- Dent corn: Largely grown to be utilized to feed animals
- Flint corn: Comes in a variety of colors, has a very hard outer layer
- Flour: Very starchy, used in a variety of foods like bread
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- Geiling, Natasha. Why do we eat popcorn at the movies? Smithsonian Magazine (2013). Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-do-we-eat-popcorn-at-the-movies-475063/.
- Cole, Adama. Aztec gold: Watch the history and science of popcorn. NPR (2016). Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/19/463634834/aztec-gold-watch-the-history-and-science-of-popcorn
- Cretors History. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.cretors.com/page.asp?i=12.
- Mcdorr, Zac. Costal history: Next time you make popcorn think of Percy Spencer. Press Herald. (2019) Retrieved from https://www.pressherald.com/2019/07/31/coastal-history-next-time-you-make-popcorn-think-of-percy-spencer/.
- How is popcorn made? Grand Rapids Popcorn (2020). Retrieved from https://grpopcorn.com/blogs/news/how-is-popcorn-made-a-scientific-look-from-kernel-to-popped-corn
- Different Types of Corn. Popcorn.org (2020). Retrieved from https://www.popcorn.org/Different-Types-of-Corn.