National Popcorn Day is annually observed January 19th.
This time-honored treat can be sweet or savory, caramelized, buttered or plain, molded into a candied ball or tossed with nuts and chocolate. However, it is enjoyed, enjoy it on National Popcorn Day, January 19th.
The word “corn” in Old English meant “grain” or more specifically the most prominent grain grown in a region. As maize was the most common grain in early America, the word “corn” was aptly applied.
As early as the 16th century, popcorn was used in headdresses worn during Aztec ceremonies honoring Tlaloc, their god of maize and fertility. Early Spanish explorers were fascinated by the corn that burst into what looked like a white flower.
Popcorn started becoming popular in the United States in the middle 1800s. Popcorn joined the mobile generation in 1893 when an inventor named Charles Cretors introduced the first moveable popcorn machine at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
About the same time, Louise Ruckheim added peanuts and molasses to popcorn to bring Cracker Jack to the world. The national anthem of baseball was born in 1908 when Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer wrote Take Me out to the Ballgame. From that point onward, popcorn, specifically Cracker Jack, became forever married to the game.
Popcorn has another romance that may have had a slow start but eventually took off. Today, who can image going to the movies without getting a box of buttered popcorn. While popcorn itself was an economical choice for a snack food, the expense of installing a machine and venting the building properly didn’t seem worth the effort. If it weren’t for Glen W. Dickson, we would be purchasing our popcorn from a vendor on the street before taking in the show. Dickson put in the effort and expense of placing machines inside his theaters. After realizing how quickly he recouped his costs, other theater owners followed suit.
The next significant advancement for popcorn was the invention of the microwave. Magnetrons, a technology produced by Raytheon Manufacturing Corporation for the military during World War II, were later used to develop microwave ovens. Percy Spencer was the man who made it happen. Popcorn was one of his primary experiments during the microwave’s development.
Today, Americans consume 17 billion quarts of popcorn a year, more than any other country in the world. A majority of the popcorn produced in the world is grown in the United States. Nebraska leads the corn belt in popcorn production.
- Compared to most snack foods, popcorn is low in calories. Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup. Oil-popped is only 55 per cup.
- Of the 6 types of maize/corn—pod, sweet, flour, dent, flint, and popcorn—only popcorn pops.
- Popcorn differs from other types of maize/corn in that is has a thicker pericarp/hull. The hull allows pressure from the heated water to build and eventually bursts open. The inside starch becomes gelatinous while being heated; when the hull bursts, the gelatinized starch spills out and cools, giving it its familiar popcorn shape.
- Most U.S. popcorn is grown in the Midwest, primarily in Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri.
- Most popcorn comes in two basic shapes when it’s popped: snowflake and mushroom. Snowflake is used in movie theaters and ballparks because it looks and pops bigger. Mushroom is used for candy confections because it doesn’t crumble.
- Popping popcorn is one of the number one uses for microwave ovens. Most microwave ovens have a “popcorn” control button.
- “Popability” is popcorn lingo that refers to the percentage of kernels that pop.
- The oldest ears of popcorn ever found came from Mexico and are over 4000 years old.
- Americans have been popping corn since long before the first European explorers arrived which makes popcorn one of our most popular Native American traditions.
- Before stoves and microwaves, hot sand was used to provide the right kind of heat to make corn kernels pop.
- A single kernel pops with such force that it can be propelled up to 3 feet in the air.