Fun Facts: Popcorn

Corny Facts | Popping Tips | Popcorn History |

October is National Popcorn Poppin’ Month, a time for popcorn lovers to celebrate the annual harvest of one of America’s oldest, tastiest and most beloved snacks. Share the fun with your family and friends by popping up a batch of your favorite crispy, crunchy snacking treat…popcorn!

The harvest season is the perfect time to celebrate this delightful kernel of goodness. Americans consume some 17 billion quarts of this naturally fun treat. That’s 54 quarts per man, woman, and child.

Popcorn explodes with flavor whether eaten plain or with your favorite sweet or spicy topping. Popcorn is a whole grain which makes it a “good-for-you” food, so you can munch away guilt free, knowing that you’re adding needed nutrients to your body.

There’s also a little bit of magic in every kernel of popcorn. Popcorn delights young and old alike as it dances and sings in a sizzling pan of oil or microwave oven. And the aroma! One whiff of this tantalizing treat triggers hunger pangs you didn’t even know existed.

Popping Tips for Good Old-Fashioned Popcorn

Nothing’s better than a great batch of popcorn. Here are a few tips for perfect popping, every time.

  • Warm the heavy pan or heavy skillet. Be sure the lid of the pan is loose enough to allow steam to escape and keep the pan moving when popping popcorn on the stove.

  • Add ¼ cup of vegetable (cooking) oil to the pan. Allow the oil to heat. The best popping temperature is between 400-460 degrees Fahrenheit. Note: Oil burns at 500 degrees Fahrenheit, so if your oil starts to smoke, it’s too hot.

  • Test the heat of the oil by dropping in one or two kernels. When the kernel spins in the oil you’re ready to add the remaining popcorn. Pour just enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan.

  • Cover and shake the pan to be certain the oil coats each kernel. When you hear the last few pops, remove the pan from the heat, take off the lid and empty the popped popcorn into a large bowl.
  • Corny Facts

    • Americans consume some 17 billion quarts of this whole grain, good-for-you treat. That’s 54 quarts per man, woman, and child.

    • 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.

    • Popcorn is a type of maize (or corn), a member of the grass family, and is scientifically known as Zea mays everta. 

    • Of the 6 types of maize/corn—pod, sweet, flour, dent, flint, and popcorn—only popcorn pops. 

    • Popcorn is a whole grain. It is made up of three components: the germ, endosperm, and pericarp (also know as the hull).

    • Popcorn needs between 13.5-14percent of moisture to pop.

    • 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. 

    • Many people believe the acres of corn they see in the Midwest during growing season could be picked and eaten for dinner, or dried and popped. In fact, those acres are typically field corn, which is used largely for livestock feed, and differs from both sweet corn and popcorn. 

    • The peak period for popcorn sales for home consumption is in the fall. 

    • 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.

    • There is no such thing as “hull-less” popcorn. All popcorn needs a hull in order to pop. Some varieties of popcorn have been bred so the hull shatters upon popping, making it appear to be hull-less. 

    • How high popcorn kernels can pop? Up to 3 feet in the air. 

    • The world's largest popcorn ball, as measured by the Guinness Book of World Records: 12 feet in diameter, containing 2,000 pounds of corn, 40,000 pounds of sugar, 280 gallons of corn syrup and 400 gallons of water. 

    • If you made a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles, you would need more than 352,028,160 popped kernels!

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    A History of Popcorn Poppin’

    • Popcorn is one of the oldest American foods and has had a significant role in our history. Some of the oldest ears of popcorn were found in 1948 by archaeologists exploring the Bat Cave in west central New Mexico. These ears were proven to be about 4,000 years old.

    • In South America, kernels of popcorn found in burial grounds in the coastal deserts of North Chile were so well preserved they would still pop even though they were 1,000 years old!

    • Popcorn was used by the Native Americans as a staple in their diet and for decoration. Sixteenth century Aztec Indians used popcorn in their ceremonies; young women danced a “popcorn dance” and wore garlands of popcorn in their hair.

    • Popcorn was probably NOT served at the first Thanksgiving. There is no indication that popcorn had made its way East at the time of the earliest settlers.

    • Early Native Americans threw kernels directly into the fire or into heated sand. Once popped, the corn was sifted and then pounded into a fine, powdery meal and later mixed with water for eating. This was especially handy when traveling, making it a true American “to go” meal.

    • By the 1840s popping corn had become a popular recreational activity.

    • Colonists mixed ground popcorn with milk and ate it as a breakfast food. Popcorn pudding—made from ground popcorn—was lauded by the likes of Ella Kellogg, Fannie Merritt Farmer and Mary Hamilton Talbott. And shortly after the end of World War II, a shortage of baking flours forced bread makers to substitute up to 25f wheat flour with ground popped popcorn.

    • By the 1870s popcorn was a common item sold in grocery stores, and at concession stands at circuses, carnivals, and street fairs.

    • Charles Cretors, founder of C. Cretors and Company, Chicago, introduced the world’s first mobile popcorn machine at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Scientific American reported: “This machine....was designed with the idea of moving it about to any location where the operator would be likely to do a good business. The apparatus, which is light and strong, and weighing but 400 or 500 pounds, can be drawn readily by a boy or by a small pony to any picnic ground, fair, political rally, etc., and to many other places where a good business could be done for a day or two.”

    • During the Depression, popcorn sold for 5 or 10 cents a bag and was considered an affordable luxury for struggling families.

    • During World War II, sugar was sent overseas for U.S. troops, which meant there wasn’t much sugar left in the states to make candy. Thanks to this unusual situation, Americans ate three times as much popcorn as usual.

    • In 1945, an engineer named Percy Spencer accidentally discovered that microwave radio signals could be used to cook foods. His experiments with popcorn led, in part, to the development of the microwave oven.

    • The “talking picture” solidified the presence of movie theaters in the U.S. in the late 1920’s. Many theatre owners refused to sell popcorn in their theaters because they felt it was too messy. Industrious vendors set up popcorn poppers or rented storefront space next to theatres and sold popcorn to patrons on their way into the theatre. Eventually, theatre owners began installing popcorn poppers inside their theatres; those who refused to sell popcorn quickly went out of business. During the depression, 5 and 10 cent bags of popcorn were one of the few luxuries families could afford. Unlike other confections, popcorn sales increased throughout the Depression. A major reason for this increase was the introduction of popcorn into movie theatres. One businessman actually lowered the price of his theatre tickets and added a popcorn machine. He soon saw huge profits.
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    More Resources:

    Popcorn is the Perfect Party Food: Two Quick Recipes