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Popcorn History

Picture of a old time popcorn cart. Popcorn probably grew first in Mexico, though it was also used in China and India hundreds of years before Columbus came to America.

Biblical accounts of "corn" stored in the pyramids of Egypt are misunderstood. The "corn" from the bible was probably barley. The mistake comes from a changed use of the word "corn," which was used to signify the most-used grain of a specific place. In England, "corn" was wheat, and in Scotland and Ireland the word referred to oats. Since maize was the common American "corn," it took that name -- and keeps it today.

Archaeologists found corn pollen below Mexico City that was 80,000 years old. Because it is nearly identical to modern popcorn pollen, researchers believe that "cave people" most likely had popcorn.

The oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in a bat cave in west central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950 by anthropologist Herbert Dick and botanist Earle Smith, Harvard graduate students. They have been carbon dated to be about 5,600 years old.

A Zapotec funeral urn found in Mexico and dating about 300 A.D. depicts a Maize god with symbols representing primitive popcorn in his headdress. Also ancient popcorn poppers (shallow vessels with a hole on the top and a single handle) have been found on the north coast of Peru and date back to the pre-Inca culture of about 300 A.D.

In southwest Utah, a 1,000 year old popped kernel of popcorn was found in a dry cave inhabited by predecessors of the Pueblo Indian.

Most experts agree that popcorn originated in the Americas with explorers learning about popcorn from Native Americans.

After invading Mexico in 1519, Hernando Cortes, Spanish explorer and conqueror of the Aztec Empire of Mexico, discovered that popcorn was just as important to the Aztecs, who used it for decorating ceremonial head-dresses, necklaces, ornaments on statues of their gods, as well as for food.

One of the first sights Columbus saw in the New World was the Indians in San Salvador selling popcorn and wearing it as jewelry.

In 1612, French explorers saw some Iroquois people popping corn in clay pots. They would fill the pots with hot sand, throw in some popcorn, and stir it with a stick. When the popcorn popped, it came to the top of the sand and was easy to get.

Some historians suggest, but this theory has never been proved, that when the early English colonists held their first Thanksgiving celebration on October 15, 1621, an Indian named Quadequina brought an offering for the feast - a great deerskin bag of popped corn. The Pilgrims enjoyed this treat, which was to become a unique part of the American way of life. The early colonists called it popped corn, parching corn, and rice corn. The Native Americans would bring popcorn snack to meetings with the English colonists as a token of goodwill during peace negotiations. They not only ate popcorn by itself, they also made popcorn soup and popcorn beer, and wore head dresses adorned with popcorn and wore popcorn jewelry.

Some Native American tribes believed that a spirit lived inside each kernel of popcorn. The spirits wouldn’t bother humans, but if their home was heated, they would jump around, getting angrier and angrier, until eventually they would burst out and pop.

After their introduction Colonial housewives served popcorn with sugar and cream for breakfast (the first "puffed" breakfast cereal). At this point there were more than 700 varieties of popcorn. Some colonists popped corn using a cylinder of thin sheet-iron that revolved on an axle in front of the fireplace like a squirrel cage.

The use of the plow became commonplace in the mid-1800s and led to the widespread planting of maize in the United States.

By the late 1800's, popcorn was being sold in the United States by vendors on the street, as well as in parks, carnivals and state fairs.

Today, popcorn continues to be an American favorite, with most of the popcorn in the world coming from Nebraska and Indiana.

Americans now consume over one billion pounds of popcorn every year. 30% is eaten at movies, circuses, ball games, and county fairs, but 60% is popped right at home. People in the Midwest buy more popcorn than in any other part of the United States. Milwaukee and Minneapolis are the top popcorn-eating cities.

The history of popcorn is quite interesting, but the best thing about popcorn... is eating it!

What Makes Popcorn Pop

Picture of a popcorn kernels. Popcorn, like all grains, contains water. About thirteen and a half to fourteen percent of each kernel is made up of water. So when a popcorn kernel is heated above the boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, this water turns to steam. This steam creates pressure within the kernel, causing the kernel to explode and turn itself inside out.

References: Wikipedia, popcorn.org, Jolly Time, What's Cooking America