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(Gleaned from various sources including the US Popcorn Board.)

What is popcorn?

Popcorn is scientifically known as Zea Mays Everta. It’s a type of maize, or corn, and is a member of the grass family. Of the 4 most common types of corn—sweet, dent (also known as field), flint (also known as Indian corn), and popcorn—only popcorn pops! Popcorn differs from other types of corn in that its hull has just the right thickness to allow it to hold moisture and burst open when heat turns the moisture into steam.

How does popcorn pop?

Each kernel of popcorn contains a small drop of water stored inside a circle of soft starch. Popcorn needs between 13.5-14% moisture to pop. The soft starch is surrounded by the kernel's hard outer surface. As the kernel heats up, the water begins to expand. Around 212 degrees the water turns into steam and changes the starch inside each kernel into a superhot gelatinous goop. The kernel continues to heat to about 347 degrees. The pressure inside the grain will reach 135 pounds per square inch before finally bursting the hull open. As it explodes, steam inside the kernel is released. The soft starch inside the popcorn becomes inflated and spills out, cooling immediately and forming into the odd shape we know and love. The small fibrous bits that you see stuck on the outside of the popped snack are parts of the outside kernel left after the explosion. Thus for red popcorn you will see red bits, and so on. The actual moisture of the popcorn will mean more or less of these bits. Perfect moisture means less of them.

A kernel will swell how many times its original size when it pops?

Around 40-50 times its original size!

What is an important feature of popcorn poppers?

It should provide for the escape of steam during the popping cycle. This prevents the popcorn from becoming soggy.

What types of popcorn poppers are there?

Air poppers, stovetop poppers, electric popcorn poppers and of course a heavy bottom kettle with lid for your stove or campfire.

When should you salt popcorn?

Pre-salting kernels toughens popcorn. So, salt the popcorn after it has been popped

One ounce of unpopped popcorn makes how much typically?

a quart popped.

How large was the largest popcorn ball?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world's largest popcorn ball weighed… 5000 lbs

How many kernels of popcorn are in a cup typically?

1600 kernels

Where is the best place to store popcorn?

A cool, dry cupboard in an airtight container like a mason jar.

How much does a quart of popcorn cost on average?

25 cents

How old is popcorn?

Anthropologists found popcorn ears in the bat caves of New Mexico that were about 4000 years old, some smaller than a penny to about 2 inches.

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 southwestern Utah, a 1,000-year-old popped kernel of popcorn was found in a dry cave inhabited by predecessors of the Pueblo Indians.

How many calories in one cup of oil-popped popcorn?

55 calories, with light amt butter about 133 calories

Average family eats how many quarts in a year?

51 quarts

What is the ideal popping temperature?

400-460 Farenheit

Where did popcorn originate?

It is believed that the first use of wild and early cultivated corn was popping found in Mexico, spreading to South America.

What happened with popcorn during the Great 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.

What happened 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.

What did TV do to popcorn consumption?

Attendance at movie theaters dropped and, with it, popcorn consumption.

How did ancient peoples pop popcorn?

One of the ancient ways to pop corn was to heat sand in a fire and stir kernels of popcorn in when the sand was fully heated.

How much do Americans today consume?

16 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year.

Kernels that do not pop are called what?

Old Maids - They do not have sufficient water contained within the starch to create the build up of pressure needed to pop the kernels.

If popcorn does not pop well can you rejuvenate it?

it may have lost some of its moisture. Rejuvenate popcorn by filling a 1-quart jar 3/4 full with popcorn. Add one tablespoon of water. Cover and shake every five to 10 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Turn the jar upside down or rightside up twice a day. In two to four days it should be perfect for popping.

Is popcorn a whole grain?

Popcorn is a whole grain and is made up of three components: the germ, endosperm, and pericarp (or hull). Popcorn is a whole grain, making it a good-for-you food. Popcorn provides energy-producing complex carbohydrates Popcorn contains fiber, providing roughage the body needs in the daily diet. Popcorn is naturally low in fat and calories. Popcorn has no artificial additives or preservatives, and is sugar-free. 3 cups of popcorn equal one serving from the grain group. Milled grains have the bran, germ and endosperm, and dietary fiber removed and many B vitamins

Can you cook with popcorn besides just eating it?

Yes, lots of recipes on our site and the popcorn board site. Can pop it and grind it in food processor or use it popped in recipes. We have lots of recipes on our site and the popcorn board recipes include:
Cranberry Almond Popcorn Muffins
Popcorn Crusted Macaroni and Cheese
Thai Peanut and Popcorn Crusted Chicken
Popcorn Pepperoni Pizza Dippers
Popcorn Pepperoni Pizza Dippers
Cheesy Popcorn Bread

How do you prepare perfect popcorn?

First, warm the popper, heavy pan or skillet. If oil popping your corn, add 1/4 cup of cooking oil to the pan. Allow the oil to heat. The best popping temperature is between 400 and 460 degrees Fahrenheit. Oil burns at 500 degrees. If your oil starts to smoke, it's too hot. Any cooking oil will work provided it can retain the proper temperature. Don't pop popcorn in butter. Butter will burn. Test the heat of the oil by dropping in one or two kernels. When the kernel pops or spins in the oil, you're ready to add the remaining popcorn. Pour just enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan. Shake the pan to be certain oil coats each kernel. Keep shaking to prevent burning, when the kernels have mostly stopped popping remove from heat.


The folklore of some Native American tribes told of spirits who lived inside each kernel of popcorn. The spirits were quiet and content to live on their own -- but grew angry if their houses were heated. The hotter their homes became, the angrier they'd get -- shaking the kernels until the heat was too much. Finally they would burst out of their homes and into the air as a disgruntled puff of steam.

Facts from the US Popcorn Board:
The U.S. produces 498,000 TONS of popcorn every year, of which 103,000 tons is exported.
The U.S. Government Popcorn Board comes from the Popcorn Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act signed by President Clinton, a big fan of popcorn, on April 4, 1996. The Popcorn Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act tells us right off the top, that no lesser authority than the U.S. Congress finds, "popcorn is an important food that is a valuable part of the human diet."
The nine-member Popcorn Board works to expand the popcorn market by conducting special promotions, research, and informing consumers of the qualities and economic importance of popcorn.

The Origin of Kettle Corn

For the uninitiated, kettle corn was first introduced in the early 1700s. After rendering their lard, settlers would use it to pop popcorn in large cast-iron kettles, adding to the corn whatever confections they had on hand, such as molasses, honey, or sugar cane, to sweeten their treat. Today it's cooked in cast-iron or stainless steel kettles using propane as a heat source and oils like soybean, canola or coconut oil instead of lard. Usually every popper has his or her favorite sweetening agent to add to the pot. The end result is a slightly sweet, slightly salty popcorn that has universal appeal. If the aroma of the cooking popcorn doesn't get them, the taste always does!

If you have seen kettle corn being popped at a local fair or market, then you know that it is the hottest concession around. The overhead is extremely low, and most vendors have been able to recoup their original equipment investment in just a few shows. Not many other business opportunities can make this claim, but it is true. If you are unsure, find a farmers market or craft fair and spend half an hour watching the kettle corn people. You will notice that the vendors are smiling, the customers are smiling, and there is a lot of money being made.

More Popcorn Trivia

The ancient way to pop corn was to heat sand in a fire and stir kernels of popcorn in when the sand was fully heated.

In 1945, Percy Spencer discovered that when popcorn was placed under microwave energy, it popped. This led to experiments with other foods, and the birth of the microwave oven.

Varieties of popcorn are grown to pop into two distinctive shapes: "butterfly," the large, jaggedy popcorn sold in theaters and ball parks; and mushroom, the rounder and tougher variety used in popcorn candies and snacks. It holds it shape better during mixing.

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 it today.

Popcorn was integral to early 16th century Aztec Indian ceremonies. Bernardino de Sahagun writes: "And also a number of young women danced, having so vowed, a popcorn dance. As thick as tassels of maize were their popcorn garlands. And these they placed upon (the girls') heads."

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 and fertility.

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."

Exploring Paraguay during the 18th century, Felix de Azara told of a kind of popcorn with kernels on the tassel which, when "it is boiled in fat or oil, the grains burst without becoming detached, and there results a superb bouquet fit to adorn a lady's hair at night without anyone knowing what it was. I have often eaten these burst grains and found them very good."

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

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 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year. The average American eats about 58 quarts.

Charles Cretors, founder of C. Cretors and Company in 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 businesss. 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."

Percy Spencer, Raytheon Manufacturing Corporation, figured out how to mass produce magnetrons which were being used to generate microwaves for use in World War II. Looking for post-war applications of Raytheon technology, Spencer spurred the development of the microwave oven. Popcorn was key to many of Spencer's experiments.


Some books about popcorn.

The Biggest Popcorn Party Ever in Center County
Jane Hoober Peifer, Marilyn Peifer Nolte (Illustrator)
Date Published: January 1987

Corn - 140 recipies: roasted, creamed, simmered + more
Olwen Woodier
Date Published: 2002

If You Take a Mouse to the Movies
Laura Joffe Numeroff, Felicia Bond (Illustrator)
Date Published: 2000

Frank Asch

Popcorn at the Palace
Emily Arnold McCully
Date Published: September 1997

Popcorn Magic
Phylliss Adams, Virginia Johnson
Date Published: December 1991

Popcorn Plants
Kathleen V. Kudlinski
Lerner Publications 1998

Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America
Andrew F. Smith
Date Published: 1999

Science Fun With Peanuts and Popcorn
Rose Wyler
Date Published: 1986

The Popcorn Book
Tommie DePaola

The Popcorn Dragon
Jane Thayer, Lisa McCue (Illustrator)
Date Published: February 1991

The Popcorn Shop
Alice Low, Patti Hammel (Illustrator)
Date Published: 1993

The Popcorn Tree
Carolyn Mamchur, Laurie McGaw (Illustrator)
Date Published: September 1998

What Makes Popcorn Pop?
Dave Woodside
Atheneum Publications 1980

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