The History of Popcorns


What is a Popcorn?

Popcorn is a variety of corn kernel which swells and puffs up when heated.

Brief history of Popcorns

Corn was utilized about 10,000 years ago in present-day Mexico. Archaeologists learned that people have known about popcorn for thousands of years. In Mexico, for instance, remains of popcorn have been discovered in 3600 BCE. Kernels of popcorn were also discovered in burial grounds in North Chile. They were so well maintained they would still pop even though they are 1,000 years old.

Aztec Indians

Popcorn was fundamental in the early 16th century Aztec Indian ceremonies. Bernardino de Sahagun writes: “And several young women also danced, having so promised, 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 attacked Mexico and came into contact with the Aztecs. Popcorn was an essential food for the Aztec Indians. They also used popcorn as decor for conventional necklaces and ornaments on images of their gods, including Tlaloc, the fertility, and god of rain.

An early Spanish chronicle of a celebration 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 reveals its contents and makes itself look like a white flower; they said these were hailstones presented to the god of water.”

The Spanish invaders brought popcorn to the mainland, and the simple recipe started spreading around the world. 

Modern Era

Until the 19th century, the popping of the kernels was delivered by hand on stovetops. Kernels were marketed on the East Coast of the United States under names such as Nonpareil or Pearls. The term popped corn first emerged in John Russell Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms. Popcorn is a part in Cracker Jack, and, in the early years of the product, it was popped by hand.

Popcorn’s accessibility increased fast in the 1890s with Charles Cretors’ design of the popcorn maker. Cretors, a Chicago candy store owner, had created several steam-powered machines for roasting nuts and employed the technology to the corn kernels. By the turn of the century, Cretors had built and expanded street carts furnished with steam-powered popcorn makers.

During the Great Depression, popcorn was relatively inexpensive at 5–10 cents a bag and grew popular. Thus, while other companies failed, the popcorn business flourished and became a source of income for many grappling farmers, including the Redenbacher family, the namesake of the famous popcorn brand. During the second world war, sugar rations reduced candy production, and Americans compensated by eating three times as much popcorn as they had before. (Classic Americans.) The snack was hot at theaters, much to the theater owners’ initial disapproval, who thought it distracted from the films. Their minds finally changed, however, and in 1938 a Midwestern theater owner named Glen W. Dickinson Sr. introduced popcorn machines in the lobbies of his Dickinson theaters. Popcorn was making more gain than theater tickets, and at the advice of his production consultant, R. Ray Aden, Dickinson purchased popcorn farms and was able to keep ticket prices down. The test was a financial success, and the trend to serve popcorn soon spread.

In 1970, Orville Redenbacher’s namesake label of popcorn was launched. In 1981, General Mills acquired the first patent for a microwave popcorn bag; popcorn consumption saw an acute increase, by tens of thousands of pounds, in the years following.

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