All About Popcorn - Popcorn Fun Facts
• The average American (every man, woman and child) consumes 54 quarts of popcorn annually which means that the U.S. eats about 17 million quarts of popcorn each and every year. Americans consume more popcorn than the citizens of any other country in the world.
• If you wanted to create a line of popped popcorn from LA to NY city, you'd need more than 352,028,160 pieces of popcorn.
• 70% of popcorn consumed in America is consumed at home. The other 30% of popcorn is consumed outside the home at places like baseball games, movie theaters, and in the office from corporate popcorn gifts.
• Fall and winter are the seasons when the most popcorn is consumed. This timing coincides perfectly with the annual popcorn harvest in the Midwest. In fact, October is officially National Popcorn Poppin' Month.
• Not surprisingly, the U.S. is the largest agricultural grower of popcorn in the world - mostly in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio. There are many midwest cities that claim to be the popcorn capital of the world.
• According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world's largest popcorn ball was unveiled in September 2006 in Lake Forest, Illinois. It weighed a whopping 3,423 pounds and measured 8 feet in diameter. The total circumference of the popcorn ball was 24.5 feet. It took employees of a local popcorn tin company 2 days to make the giant-sized snack.
• Popcorn is one of the healthiest snacks you can eat with only 31 calories per air-popped cup or only 55 calories per oil-popped cup. It contains no sodium and is naturally sugar free and high in fiber.
• Popcorn is a member of the maize/corn family, but it is the only one of the 6 types that pops. This is because it has a thicker hull than other types of corn. This hull allows pressure to build inside the kernel enabling it to pop.
• Want to do a fun little experiment the next time you are popping corn? Leave the lid off then just stand back and watch because popcorn is said to be able to pop up to 3 feet up in the air.
All About Popcorn - Popcorn History
The next few weeks I'll be exploring the wonderful world of popcorn. Who doesn't love a good bowl of these delicious, crunchy kernels? But how did Popcorn come to be? Who would of thought of heating the kernels up to make them pop?
The History of Popcorn
Popcorn has been grown and eaten as a snack in the United States for thousands of years. It is believed that the popping of corn was first discovered by Native Americans who threw the corn into the fire causing it to pop. They also used popped corn to make garlands that the women wore as wedding ceremony accessories and at other celebration dances. Likely the native Americans introduced popcorn to the American colonists who actually ground it up mixing it with milk for breakfast.
Popping corn became quite popular as a recreational activity by the 1840s. In the 1870s popcorn was commonly sold at carnivals and circuses as well as in grocery stores.
With the introduction of the movies or 'talking pictures', popcorn solidified its place in America's movie theaters. Although theater owners initially refused to sell popcorn because it was too messy, many theater patrons brought the popcorn to the theater with them by purchasing it from street vendors on the way in. Of course, theater owners finally caught on and introduced the snack selling it at their own concession counters. This introduction of popcorn to movie theaters enabled the popcorn industry to keep growing even during the great depression of the 1930s. In addition, popcorn was a relatively affordable luxury even for struggling families as they could buy it for just 5 to 10 cents a bag.
Because of the sugar shortage during World War II, candy was not readily available as a snack item. Thanks to the lack of candy snacks, Americans turned to popcorn to fill their snack needs, eating 3 times as much popcorn as usual. World War II also induced a baking flour shortage which the popcorn industry capitalized on. Bread makers were forced to substitute 25% ground popcorn for their wheat flour.
After many years riding the popcorn popularity wave, the industry actually had a slump in the 1950s when TV was introduced. People stopped going to the theaters in lieu of staying home watching TV. The lack of theater goers created a huge drop in popcorn consumption. Up to that point, people didn't really eat popcorn at home. However, Americans missed their popcorn so they started popping it at home and the introduction of the microwave made home popping even easier. So the love affair has continued ever since. These days, popcorn is one of America's most popular and enduring snacks.
Check out our Popcorn Gifts and fall in love with popcorn all over again!
All About Popcorn - How Does Popcorn Pop?
So how exactly does a small hard kernel transform into a big, fluffy delicious snack?
Each kernel of popcorn contains a small drop of water stored inside a circle of soft starch which is surrounded by the kernel's hard outer surface. Unlike most other types of grain, this hard outer surface is resistant to moisture. For the corn to be 'popcorn', it needs to contain at 13.5 to 14% moisture inside the hard outer surface.
As the kernel heats up, the water begins to expand turning it into superheated pressurized steam. The pressure builds against the hard hull until it gives way, causing the popcorn to explode. The hull rupture usually occurs at about 135 psi and a temperature of 180 degrees Celsius.
As it explodes, the soft starch inside the popcorn becomes inflated and bursts into an airy foam, turning the kernel inside out. As the foam cools, the starch and protein polymers set yielding the crispy popcorn puff that we all know and love.
Those unpopped kernels of corn that are left at the bottom of popcorn bowls are generally the result of either kernels that don't have the proper moisture content or they have a cracked outer hull which means that the expanding steam can't build enough pressure to cause the kernel to pop.
All About Popcorn
Having a good popcorn popper is essential to making great popcorn. When trying to decide what kind of popper to buy, check places like consumer reports for ratings on how well they pop, how much volume they create, and cost to value analysis. Also be sure to choose one that has undergone scientific laboratory testing. Decide before you buy any electric popper whether you want automatic (has a thermostat which automatically shuts off the popper at the end of a popping cycle) or a non-automatic (must be promptly disconnected manually to prevent burning).
Popcorn Popper History
The earliest popcorn popper was actually the fire and heated sand used by the Native Americans to pop their corn. Once the corn was heated and popped, the fluffy popped corn was sifted from the sand and then pounded into a fine powder that was later mixed with water for eating. It was easy for the Native Americans who were constantly moving to just carry the powder with them and make a meal on the go.
At the Chicago World's Columbian Expo in 1893, Charles Cretors introduced the world's first mobile popcorn machine to the public. The steam-powered machine could do multiple tasks including roasting 12 pounds of peanuts, 20 pounds of coffee, popping corn and baking chestnuts. The scent of roasted peanuts and buttery fresh-popped popcorn attracted much attention and the ease at which this machine could be moved ultimately led to sales. 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."
Between 1900 & 1910, Cretors & Co introduced a large steam-powered horse-drawn popcorn wagon. They also began working on the first electric powered popcorn machine and by the 1930s, electric poppers were the norm. Over the years, popcorn machines were constantly evolving with the introduction of automatic opening covers, auto oil pumps, popcorn warmers and more. The only time there was a break in machine production was during world war II when all non-essential manufacturing companies were given war-making tasks. Subsequently, many companies developed small sized poppers for the homemaker. For a more detailed outline of the evolution of the popper, please visit Cretor & Co's website.
Percy Spencer accidentally stumbled upon the notion that microwave radio signals could be used to heat and cook food in 1945. His discovery and experiments with popcorn helped lead to the development of the microwave oven. This milestone discovery along with the development of ready to microwave bags of corn created $240 million in annual sales in the 1990's. Now popping popcorn is the #1 use for microwaves in America!
Yummy Popcorn Recipes
When you want to add a little extra punch to your popcorn, try some of these fantastic gourmet popcorn recipes. For even more ideas, visit the Popcorn.org website.
Easy Caramel & Walnut Popcorn
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3 quarts unsalted popped popcorn
- 1 cup chopped nuts(e.g., walnuts)
Cream together butter and brown sugar till light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, toss popcorn and walnuts. Add creamed mixture to popcorn and nuts. Combine until coated. Spread on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Bake at 350-degree oven for 10 minutes or until crisp. Makes about 3 quarts.
Kicked Up Cajun Popcorn
- 2 1/2 quarts popped popcorn
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
Pour butter over warm popcorn. Combine remaining seasonings and sprinkle over popcorn; toss to mix. Bake in 300-degree Fahrenheit oven for crispy popcorn. Makes about 10 cups of popcorn.
White Chocolate Popcorn Crunch
- 5 cups popped popcorn
- 1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- 12 ounces white chocolate baking chips, chopped white chocolate or white candy coating
- 1-2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
Cover a baking pan with foil or wax paper; set aside. Place popcorn, cranberries and almonds in a large bowl; set aside.
Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring until smooth OR melt according to package directions. (If chocolate is not smooth after melting, , stir in 1-2 tablespoons shortening until mixture is smooth and loose enough to coat popcorn.)
Pour chocolate mixture over popcorn mixture and stir to coat. Spread onto prepared pan; allow to cool completely. When chocolate is cooled and set, break into chunks for serving. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.
Try this great variations - White Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn Crunch: Omit cranberries and almonds. Stir in 1 cup crushed hard candy peppermints after chocolate is melted.
Easy Microwave Popcorn Trail Mix
- 1 bag (3.5 oz) Microwave Popcorn (use Light for Healthier Version)
- 1 cup dry roasted salted peanuts
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
- 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 14" x 10" metal baking pan. Pop popcorn according to package directions (we use Newman's Own Natural Light Microwave) and pour into large glass bowl. Add peanuts, raisins, apricots and sunflower seeds mixing well. Set aside.
In 1 quart glass measuring cup, mix brown sugar, butter, honey and salt. Microwave uncovered on high for 90 seconds. Stir well. Continue microwaving on high 30 seconds. It should be boiling. Continue boiling 90 seconds. Remove from microwave and stir in the baking soda. Pour syrup mixture over popcorn mixture, stirring until mixed. Place mixture into greased pan. Bake 15 minutes, stirring once. Remove from oven to cool and crisp. Store in a tightly covered container.
Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 3 tablespoons peanut butter
- 8 cups popped popcorn
- 1 cup candy-coated peanut candy (Reese's Pieces)
Line a baking sheet or work surface with waxed paper and set aside. Stir sugar, corn syrup, butter and peanut butter together in a large saucepan. Bring to a full boil over medium heat. Stir in popcorn until well coated.
Remove pan from heat and stir candy pieces gently into mixture. Allow mixture to cool just enough to allow handling. Using a nice cream scoop or buttered hands, shape mixture into 2-inch balls and place on waxed paper to cool. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container. Makes 14 - 18 balls depending on how big you make them.
Popcorn as a Gift
Gourmet popcorn makes a great gift for just about any occasion and best of all, it is appropriate for any age. Kids love popcorn as much as adults so consider sending them one as a birthday or get well gift. Popcorn tins are also appropriate for corporate clients so sending one for the holidays or to say thank you any time of the year is a fantastic idea.
When looking for holiday popcorn tins and gourmet popcorn gifts, be sure to make sure that the popcorn is fresh-popped. Many companies pop it ahead of time so it will sit on shelves for months and months before your recipient receives it. Fresh popcorn tins may cost a bit more, but the popcorn tastes a million times better. So if you want rave reviews, look for a fresh-popped statement or guarantee on the companies product or website prior to purchasing!
Candy Speckled Popcorn Cake
- 1/2 cups soft butter
- 1 1/2 bags mini marshmallows
- 20 cups popcorn, cooled (kernels removed)
- 1 1/2 cups smarties
In a large pot, melt butter and marshmallows over medium heat. In a large bowl, combine melted marshmallows with popcorn and candy. With lightly greased hands, make any shapes and put in the fridge for 5 minutes.
Health Benefits of Popcorn
Popcorn is a healthy snack. Wait! Before you crack open that holiday popcorn tin, head off to the movies and get an extra-jumbo bucket of it, consider that the health benefits come from the plain, unadorned kernels that are, ideally, air-popped. All the butter, salt, cheese, and other toppings we put on may add to the delicious taste and aroma, but they also add to the calorie content and fat count. It is easy to enjoy both the wonderful flavor of popcorn and its healthy attributes. We’ll show you how.
First, don’t go to the movies! Movie theater popcorn is tempting – and that’s why they load it up with butter, or butter flavoring, and salt. The smell makes us throw down large amounts of money for this normally very inexpensive snack. It’ll cost you about $8 for a tub of popcorn; but it’ll cost you more in terms of your health.
A large bucket of popcorn with butter has 1238 calories, 78 grams of fat, and 49 grams of saturated fat. If you cut back to a medium with no butter, you are cutting fat, but still eating 951 calories! And who gets a medium with no butter at the movies? According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a medium container of popcorn with butter has more fat that bacon, eggs, a Big Mac, fries, and a steak dinner – combined!
Luckily, the majority of popcorn that Americans eat (and we eat over 17 billion quarts of it each year) is made at home. This cuts the calorie and fat potential, but with movie theater-style microwave options or our choice of toppings, we may not be doing much better than when we’re watching the latest blockbuster.
As a little incentive to make healthier popcorn, let’s take a look at the health benefits:
- Popcorn is a whole grain, which are essential for a healthy, balanced diet. The “germ” part of the grain is packed with vitamins and minerals. It also has protein and healthy fats.
- The coating around the kernel is the bran, and this contains nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and B vitamins.
- The softer inside of the kernel has starch and protein, with a small amount of vitamins and minerals.
- Popcorn is a good source of antioxidants, particularly polyphenols. These protect your body from aging free radicals. Research shows that they can help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Fruits and veggies also have polyphenols – and popcorn has just about as much.
- Fiber. This keeps you regular, fills you up, and keeps your blood glucose levels even. Not bad.
- Before we load it up with high-fat, high-calorie toppings, popcorn is low in calories and fat. It has no sugar or salt. One cup of air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories. Enjoy three cups with a little seasoning, and you have a superb sub-100 calorie snack.
You can enjoy the taste of popcorn as well as its health benefits. The first step is to air-pop your kernels. Poppers are inexpensive at box and discount stores. After it’s done, spritz a little olive oil (a healthy fat) on the popcorn. This will help your spices stick to the fluffy popcorn better. Try:
- Garlic powder
- Dried oregano
- Parmesan cheese.
- Cinnamon and a touch (just a sprinkle) of sugar or Stevia
- Nutritional yeast
- Wheat germ
- Taco seasoning
- Hot cocoa powder
- Curry powder
- Pumpkin pie spice
- Honey (honey isn’t low calorie, but it is packed with health benefits)
If you don’t have an air popper, put a handful of popcorn kernels into a brown paper lunch bag. Put it in the microwave just like you would pre-made microwave popcorn. When the popping slows, take it out. Drizzle it with olive oil and your choice of toppings.
Popcorn can be a wonderful snack to satisfy both sweet and savory cravings, and a popcorn gift basket can even be a wonderful (and healthy) present for others! Just lay off the movie theater-style butter and salt; you can all enjoy these tastes if you drizzle instead of pour! Otherwise, experiment with other flavorings and enjoy!
How to Make Popcorn Balls
Homemade gifts are the best, and there can be nothing more delicious for a variety of occasions than popcorn balls. These crunchy treats can be made to satisfy a sweet or savory craving, and they are popular with kids and adults alike. Who can resist popcorn? Not Americans, it seems. We eat billions of quarts of popcorn a year, and assembling our favorite treat into another form just adds to the fun. Popcorn balls aren’t hard to make, are perfect for snack baskets and they are always crowd-pleasers: that is a recipe for success!
Traditional Popcorn Balls, courtesy of AllRecipes.com
- 2 cups unpopped popcorn
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup molasses
- ½ teaspoon salt
Put one tablespoon of oil in a saucepan, and heat. When the oil is hot, add ½ cup of popcorn kernels. Keep the saucepan moving – just like you would if you were popping Jiffy Pop. When the kernels stop popping, remove from heat. This recipe calls for you to continue doing this ½ cup at a time until all the popcorn is popped; if you want to do it all at once, go for it. If you have never popped in a saucepan before, you may want to go at the gradual pace to avoid burning.
Butter a bowl, and put the popped corn in it. Put this to the side, and melt your butter in a saucepan. Stir in the sugar, molasses, and salt. Boil this mixture on medium heat, and insert a candy thermometer. When it reads 260o, you’re done. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just wait for the mixture to boil. Pour the syrup over the popcorn, and make sure all of the corn is coated. Butter your hands, and shape the popcorn into balls.
There are other variations, which call for corn syrup that you may want to try.
Caramel Popcorn Balls, from Cooks.com
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 cups unpopped popcorn kernels
- ¾ cup white Karo syrup
- ½ cup butter
Start by popping the kernels and picking out those “old maids,” or unpopped kernels. Put the popped corn into a bowl and set aside.
Mix all the ingredients, save the popcorn, in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil this for about five minutes. Pour the syrupy mixture over the popcorn, making sure to coat it evenly. This mixture will be hot, so be careful. This recipe calls for you to dip your hands in cold water now and then to prevent burning and sticking. Other recipes, such as the one above, recommend buttering your hands. Experiment and see which works best for you. Shape the popcorn into balls, and enjoy!
Rocky Road Popcorn Balls, from AllRecipes.com
This variation adds a touch of sweet to these excellent treats.
- 3 cups mini marshmallows
- ¼ cup butter
- 8 cups of popped popcorn
- ½ dry roasted unsalted peanuts (but if you use salted, we won’t tell)
- ½ cup mini chocolate chips
Start by putting the marshmallows and butter in a saucepan on medium-low meat. Keep stirring them to keep them from burning. When they are melted and smooth, which should take about five minutes, remove from the heat. Working quickly, stir in the popcorn and peanuts. Stir them gently and make sure the popcorn is as evenly coated as possible. Stir in the chocolate chips. Butter your hands or grease them with a bit of oil, and shape the mixture into balls.
If you’re not going to eat or serve these immediately, wrap them in plastic. They make wonderful treats around Halloween or Christmas, and you can always customize the ingredients to add a little holiday flair: try red and green M&Ms instead of chocolate chips for the Rocky Road recipe, for instance. Whatever the flavor, these are a perfect item for gift baskets for kids of any age.
- All About Popcorn - Popcorn Fun Facts
- All About Popcorn - Popcorn History
- All About Popcorn - How Does Popcorn Pop?
- All About Popcorn
- Popcorn as a Gift
- Candy Speckled Popcorn Cake
- Health Benefits of Popcorn
- How to Make Popcorn Balls