Popcorn has been one of North America’s favourite snack foods and an irresistible treat, but it has been enjoyed for thousands of years all across the world. Popcorn is one of the oldest snack foods, not only is it easy to cook but it can also be seasoned hundreds of ways. 


What Makes Popcorn “Pop”? 


So what makes popcorn give out that popping sound? The secret is in the kernel. Popcorn comes from a certain variety of maize, which produces kernels with a hard outer shell. More than likely you will chip a tooth if you try to chew on one of these kernels. However to get the fluffy and edible part you are use to, you must heat the kernel, which then turns the moisture trapped within it to steam. When the outer shell of the kernel has reached its pressure point, it then bursts, thus releasing the soft and edible flake - what we have come to know as popcorn. 


Who Invented Popcorn 


While there is plenty of history in regards to popcorn throughout the Americas, one of the oldest pieces of popcorn was found in New Mexico. Discovered in a deep cave, a few heads of corn, as well as popped kernels. This discovery was made by Herbert Dick and Earle Smith back in 1948. Through the use of carbon dating (the method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon, a radioactive isotope of carbon) it was discovered that these kernels were approximately 5,600 years old. 


The popcorn variety of maize was domesticated by Pre-Columbian indigenous peoples by 5000 B.C.E. It is a small and harder form of flint corn, most commonly found in white or yellow kernels. The stalks produce several ears at a time, though they are smaller and yield less corn than other maize varieties. The “pop” is not limited exclusively to this type of maize, but the flake of other types is smaller by comparison. Popcorn likely arrived in the American Southwest over 2500 years ago, but was not found growing east of the Mississippi until the early 1800s due to botanical and environmental factors. Today the Midwest is famous for its “Corn Belt,” but prior to the introduction of the steel plow during the 19th century, soil conditions in that region were not suitable for growing corn. 


In Mexico, decorated funeral urns from 300 A.D. show that popcorn was not only eaten but also used as decorations. Aztec Indians used popcorn for eating and also used it to decorate their clothing and ceremonial embellishments. 


As colonists began moving to North America, they began to adopt this popular native American snack. It was not only eaten as a snack, but also mixed with milk and sugar to make something similar to a breakfast cereal.  


However evidence of popcorn’s first “pop” did not appear until the 1820s, when it was sold throughout the eastern United States under the names Pearl or Nonpareil. Its popularity quickly began to spread throughout the South and by the 1840s popcorn had started to gain a foothold in America. Prestigious literary magazines like New York’s Knickerbockerand the Yale Literary Magazine began referencing popcorn. By 1848, the word “popcorn” was included in John Russell Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms. Bartlett claimed that the name was derived from “the noise it makes on bursting open.”