The origin of…Popcorn

“The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.” W.C. Fields

Post 71 Popcorn

Popcorn is actually a type of corn and was first domesticated in Mexico 9,000 years ago from a wild grass. This type of corn has a small kernel with a hard outer shell. When the kernel is heated, the moisture turns into steam and when the outer shell has reached its pressure point it bursts, releasing the soft inner flake. An important factor is the moisture content of the kernels: too moist means less expansion, chewy pieces and susceptibility to mold when stored. Too dry also means less expansion and a decline of the kernels that will pop. The ideal percentage of moist is approximately 14%.
The oldest popcorn found is in New Mexico, where in the Bat Cave (a dry cave) small heads of corn and various popped kernels have been found. The kernels have been carbon dated to be roughly 5,600 years old.
Aztec Indians used popcorn as food as well as for decorating clothing and other ceremonial embellishments. Indians in North America also used popcorn and French explorers and colonists adopted the popular snack. Many people liked popcorn and by the 1800´s it was one of the most popular snack foods.

The first evidence of popcorn sold in the US comes from the 1820´s when it was sold in the Eastern US as Pearl or Nonpareil and one of the earliest recipes from popping corn is from the 1840´s from Daniel Browne.
Despite its popularity the first commercial popcorn machine wasn´t invented until 1885, by Charles Cretors in Chicago. Before that vendors popped corn by holding a wire basket over an open flame. Cretors´ invention was a mobile machine, so it could be moved around on the streets and had a gasoline burner. At the same time going to the movies became a popular pastime and popcorn vendors could often be seen near the crowds at movie theaters. This gave birth to the tradition of eating popcorn while watching a movie.
During the Great Depression in the 1930´s popcorn´s popularity grew even more due its inexpensiveness.

Today Americans eat around 17 billion quarts of popcorn per year, of which around 70% percent is consumed at home. With this number they are the number one consumers of popcorn worldwide.

Popcorn:
corn in the form of hard yellow seeds that burst open and become soft and white when they are heated (source: Merriam Webster).

The English word popcorn comes from the words pop and corn. Pop is of imitative origin. Corn comes from Old English corn, from Proto-Germanic *kurnam small seed, from the Proto Indo European root *gre-no-, grain.
Spanish palomitas literally means little pigeons/doves and comes from paloma, pigeon/dove, referring to the visual aspect of porpcorn looking like small pigeons/doves.
In Latin America you may encounter many other words for popcorn, like pochoclos in Argentina, cabritas in Chile, poporopo in Guatemala and cocaleca in the Dominican Republic.

Popcorn in other languages:
Dutch: de popcorn
Spanish: las palomitas
Italian: il pop corn

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