Popcorn, short for ‘popped corn’, is a popped corn kernel that has delighted the world for thousand of years. Popcorn has become one of the most beloved snack food in America. This easy-to-make snack, which can be flavored in countless ways, might probably be the oldest snack in the world.
The Origin of Popcorn
Popcorn’s origin is deeply rooted throughout America. Corn, or maize, is a dominant food in the continent. North America and South America both have a rich history of popcorn consumption.
The oldest popcorn known so far was found in New Mexico, a state located in the southwestern region of America. In 1948, Herbert Dick and Earle Smith made the discovery of the oldest popcorn to date at the dry cave called “Bat Cave”. A presence of small heads of corn and individual popped kernels were found in the cave. After carbon dating, those kernels were calculated to be 5,600 years old.
In Mexico, a maize god was depicted in decorated funeral urns from 300 A.D. and a headdress of the maize god was embellished with popped kernels. Traces of popcorn is prevalent not just in Mexico, but also in Guatemala, Peru and other areas of Central and South America.
A cave in Utah, North America, known to have been inhabited by Pueblo Indians, had remnants of corn kernels approximately 1,000 years old.
Aztec Indians made use of popcorn not just as food consumption but also as ornaments in clothing and ceremonial embellishments. Iroquois Indians in the Great Lakes region made popcorn as well.
Then colonization took place in North America. Colonists adopted the famous Native American snack food. Historical data showed that popcorns were eaten with milk and sugar. Back then, it also showed that popcorn was mixed with a bit of molasse, producing a snack like today’s kettle corn.
Popcorn’s Journey: Movie Snack Bar to Microwaves
With corn being a staple food in America, popcorn consumption still progressed as New Americans continued to love this snack. By 1800s, popcorn became one of the most popular snack foods as it is found everywhere not just at home but also in carnivals, circuses, concession stands, and general stores.
It was in 1885 that the first commercial popcorn machine was invented in Chicago by Charles Cretors. The machine was mobile to enable it to go around the streets. It had a gasoline burner, so the selling of popcorn was easy. Street popcorn vendors grew in numbers and at the same time, movies became popular. The roaming popcorn vendors went to places where crowds are thick. They could be found outside of theaters and because of this, popcorn being a favorite movie snack became a tradition.
In 1933, during the Great Depression, people can only afford few snack foods and popcorn was one of them. When World War II started in 1939, sugar and other supplies were rationed. With that, popcorn’s popularity rocketed.
Popcorn had its ups and downs. When the television was invented, popcorn consumption dropped as movie theater goers decreased. But it wasn’t long when popcorn made a comeback because Americans started consuming popcorn at home.
In 1981, microwave popcorn was commercially available, making it easier for people to cook their favorite snack food. Since then, popcorn consumption has been climbing up.
Americans today is estimated to consume about 17 billion quarts of popped corn kernel per year and counting.
And now, there are many types of popcorn poppers which help you easily to make popcorn at home. If you need one, you can check our list of top 5 best popcorn poppers.