1) What Makes Popcorn Pop?
Each kernel of popcorn contains a drop of water stored inside a
circle of soft starch. (That's why popcorn needs to contain 13.5
percent to 14 percent moisture.) The soft starch is surrounded by
the kernel's hard outer surface. As the kernel heats up, the water
begins to expand, and pressure builds against the hard starch. Eventually,
this hard surface gives way, causing the popcorn to "explode".
As the popcorn explodes, the soft starch inside the popcorn becomes
inflated and bursts, turning the kernel inside out. The steam inside
the kernel is released, and the popcorn is popped!
2) Types of Popcorn Kernels: The two basic types of popcorn
kernels are "butterfly" and "mushroom". The
butterfly kernel is large and fluffy with many "wings"
protruding from each kernel. Buttefly kernels are the most common
type of popcorn. The mushroom kernel is more dense and compact and
is shaped like a ball. Mushroom kernels are perfect for processes
that require heavy handling of the kernels such as coating.
3) Understanding Expansion: The pop expansion test is performed
with a Cretors Metric Weight Volumetric Test. This test is recognized
as the standard by the popcorn industry. MWVT is the measurement
of cubic centimeters of popped corn per 1 gram of unpopped corn
(cc/g). A reading of 46 on the MWVT means that 1 gram of unpopped
corn converts into 46 cubic centimeters of popped corn. The higher
the MWVT number, the greater the volume of popped corn per weight
of unpopped corn.
4) Understanding Kernel Size: Kernel size is measured in
K/10g or kernels per 10 grams. In this test 10 grams of popcorn
are measured out and the kernels are counted. The higher the kernel
count the smaller the kernel size. The expansion of popcorn is not
directly influenced by the kernel size.
5) The History of Popcorn:
· Though popcorn probably originated in Mexico, it was grown
in China, Sumatra and India years before Columbus visited 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 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
· The oldest known corn pollen is scarcely distinguishable
from modern corn pollen, judging by the 80,000-year-old fossil found
200 feet below Mexico City.
· It is believed that the first use of wild and early cultivated
corn was popping.
· The oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in
the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950. Ranging
from smaller than a penny to about 2 inches, the oldest Bat Cave
ears are about 5,600 years old.
· In tombs on the east coast of Peru, researchers have found
grains of popcorn perhaps 1,000 years old. These grains have been
so well-preserved that they will still pop.
· In southwestern Utah, a 1,000-year-old popped kernel of
popcorn was found in a dry cave inhabited by predecessors of the
· A Zapotec funeral urn found in Mexico and dating from about
300 A.D. depicts a Maize god with symbols representing primitive
popcorn in his headdress.
· Ancient popcorn poppers -- shallow vessels with a hole
on the top, a single handle sometimes decorated with a sculptured
motif such as a cat, and sometimes decorated with printed motifs
all over the vessel -- have been found on the north coast of Peru
and date back to the pre-Incan Mohica Culture of about 300 A.D.
· Most popcorn from 800 years ago was tough and slender-stalked.
The kernels themselves were quite resilient. Even today, winds sometimes
blow desert sands from ancient burials, exposing kernels of popped
corn that look fresh and white but are many centuries old.
· By the time Europeans began settling in the "New World,"
popcorn and other corn types had spread to all Native American tribes
in North and South America, except those in the extreme northern
and southern areas of the continents. More than 700 types of popcorn
were being grown, many extravagant poppers had been invented, and
popcorn was worn in the hair and around the neck. There was even
a widely consumed popcorn beer.
· When Columbus first arrived to the West Indies, the natives
tried to sell popcorn to his crew.
· In 1519, Cortes got his first sight of popcorn when he
invaded Mexico and came into contact with the Aztecs. Popcorn was
an important food for the Aztec Indians, who also used popcorn as
decoration for ceremonial headdresses, necklaces and ornaments on
statues of their gods, including Tlaloc, the god of maize, rain
· An early Spanish account of a ceremony honoring the Aztec
gods who watched over fishermen reads: "They scattered before
him parched corn, called momochitl, a kind of corn which bursts
when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like
a very white flower; they said these were hailstones given to the
god of water."
· Writing of Peruvian Indians in 1650, the Spaniard Cobo
says, "They toast a certain kind of corn until it bursts. They
call it pisancalla, and they use it as a confection."
· Early French explorers through the Great Lakes region (circa
1612) reported that the Iroquois popped popcorn in a pottery vessel
with heated sand and used it to make popcorn soup, among other things.
· The English colonists were introduced to popcorn at the
first Thanksgiving Feast at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Quadequina,
brother of the Wampanoag chief Massasoit, brought a deerskin bag
of popped corn to the celebration as a gift.
· Native Americans would bring popcorn "snacks"
to meetings with the English colonists as a token of goodwill during
· Colonial housewives served popcorn with sugar and cream
for breakfast -- the first "puffed" breakfast cereal eaten
by Europeans. 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.
· Popcorn was very popular from the 1890s until the Great
Depression. Street vendors used to follow crowds around, pushing
steam or gas-powered poppers through fairs, parks and expositions.
· During the Depression, popcorn at 5 or 10 cents a bag was
one of the few luxuries down-and-out families could afford. While
other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived. An Oklahoma
banker who went broke when his bank failed bought a popcorn machine
and started a business in a small store near a theater. After a
couple years, his popcorn business made enough money to buy back
three of the farms he'd lost.
· 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.
· Popcorn went into a slump during the early 1950s, when
television became popular. Attendance at movie theaters dropped
and, with it, popcorn consumption. When the public began eating
popcorn at home, the new relationship between television and popcorn
led to a resurge in popularity.
· Microwave popcorn -- the very first use of microwave heating
in the 1940s -- has already accounted for $240 million in annual
U.S. popcorn sales in the 1990s.
· Americans today consume 17.3 billion quarts of popped popcorn
each year. The average American eats about 68 quarts.