At the movies, at the stadium, at the fair and probably in your pantry ... it's popcorn! Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually (or a hefty 54 quarts per man, woman and child). Despite its popularity in public places (I've been handed free popcorn at countless festivals and even some bars!) approximately 70% of this crisp corn concession is eaten in the home.
"¢ Popcorn may seem like a contemporary food, but nothing could be further from the truth. Archeologists have found grains of popcorn 1,000 years old along the east coast of Peru, as well as 80,000-year-old fossilized corn pollen buried 200 feet below Mexico City. Popcorn is believed to have originated in Mexico, but is also known to have grown in China, Sumatra, and India. For a more comprehensive history of popcorn, check this out.
"¢ The secret to how popcorn pops is as simple as water. Each kernel contains a small amount of water stored in a circle of soft starch inside the hard outer casing. When heated to around 450 degrees, the moisture turns to steam, creating pressure within. As the pressure builds, the casing eventually gives way, and the kernel explodes and pops, allowing the water to escape as steam and turning the kernel inside out. This messy process can be thwarted in part thanks to products such as Jiffy Pop, introduced as early as 1958.
"¢ We've established that Americans are big fans of popcorn, but American consumption actually managed to triple during World War II (where popcorn was lauded as a great non-sugary snack alternative). Of course, popcorn has always been popular at the movies, thanks to Samuel Rubin, who helped bring the all-important fresh smell of fresh popcorn to theaters (whereas before it was shipped post-pop).
"¢ Still, taste is paramount. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), the flavor of Buttered Popcorn was the number one JellyBelly flavor from 1998 to 2003, finally giving up the gold to Very Cherry, the perennial favorite.
"¢ If you're in the Indiana area, you may consider dropping into the Popcorn Festival, which takes place in the hometown of Orville Redenbacher. It boasts free popcorn for all! (plus a really festive website). There's also another famous Popcorn Fest in Ohio.
"¢ Popcorn may be tasty to eat, but it has other interesting uses as well. For instance, as a packing material. The article may be from 1990, but its concepts seem rather apropos for people looking to go green or save a few bucks today!
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