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The History of Popcorn

Posted by Steven Bier on

What kind of corn does popcorn come from?

The corn which produces kernels that pop into the delicious snack we all know and love is a different type than the one we eat at the dinner table. Only one variety of corn can pop in the perfect way: zea mays everta. It looks very similar to a typical corn kernel, however this variety is the only one which has the ability to pop once put under heat and pressure.

The History of Popcorn in the Americas

Corn is a staple in America and has been for a long time, but when was popcorn invented? Since popcorn comes from corn, specifically the zea mays everta variety, popcorn was never really “invented” by man, however there is evidence of popcorn all throughout the history of the Americas.

The oldest popcorn known to date was found in New Mexico. In 1948, small heads of the zea mays everta were discovered by Herbert Dick and Earle Smith in a dry cave known as the “bat cave.” Several individually popped kernels were also discovered. These kernels have since been carbon dated and shown to be approximately 5,600 years old!

Additionally, there is evidence of popcorn in Peru, Mexico, and Guatemala, as well as other places in Central and South America. Aztecs used popcorn for decorating clothes and ceremonial embellishments on top of eating! There is also evidence of popcorn consumption with Native Americans throughout North America. On top of the popcorn discovered in the bat cave in New Mexico, popcorn which dates back to nearly 1,000 years was found in a cave in Utah. The cave was thought to be inhabited by Pueblo Indians. Furthermore, French explorers who traveled to the new world discovered popcorn being made by the Iroquois Native Americans in the Great Lakes region.

As colonists moved around North America, and as the United States of America came to be, people adopted this snack more and more.

The Modernization of Popcorn

As the popularity of popcorn grew, so did the ways in which popcorn was created. Before the popcorn machine was created, people made popcorn in their houses, on the stove or fireplace. When was the first popcorn machine invented? In 1885, however, Charles Cretors invented the first commercial, large-scale popcorn machine, which increased the opportunity for the production of popcorn. Since the machine was mobile, the invention also increased the amount of people who had access to popcorn and thus the popularity of the snack in America.

During the Great Depression, popcorn and its popularity grew exponentially due to its cheap price which could be afforded by all. However, when television was invented and brought into many American homes, popcorn popularity dropped drastically since people visited these mobile popcorn machines less and less. In 1981, microwave popcorn was introduced to the American people, and at-home popcorn consumption once again spiked upwards.

Uses of Popcorn Today

Today, popcorn is still the delicious snack which was spread and loved throughout history; people eat approximately 17 billion quarts of popped popcorn every year. There are many twists to the classic popcorn that has arisen in recent years. Gourmet popcorn companies like Popcorn for the People strive to invent new ways to enjoy popcorn. Much like the Aztecs did in their time, people still use popcorn as decorations, especially during Christmas time.

At Popcorn for the People, popcorn is used as a tool of empowerment. Through gourmet popcorn, adults with autism and other developmental disabilities are given opportunities to equal and meaningful employment.

From bat caves to equal employment opportunities, popcorn has made a huge mark on the world and will continue to be loved by many.


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