We eat it plain or buttered, with herbs, spices, or cheese, rolled into sweetened balls, and candy-coated with chewy caramel and almonds, but where does popcorn come from?
Theaters, fairs, festivals, athletic events, street corners, and department stores are all good places to look for this sweet delight. It’s even popping up in backyards!But it turns out, the maize we eat and the popcorn kernels we pop are NOT the same thing. The only maize type that will make popcorn is Zea Mays Everta. Despite its resemblance to a typical corn kernel, this variety is the only one that pops and transforms into the tasty snack we love to eat.
Popcorn (Zea Mays) and sweet corn are similar, but popcorn kernels have a hard moisture-sealed hull and a dense starchy content, whereas sweet corn kernels do not. The kernels of perfectly cured popcorn burst into popped corn when heated and all other types of corn kernels burn.
Moreover, yellow and white kernels aren’t the only options for popcorn. Blue, yellow, pink, and even mahogany are also brilliant choices. Still, while popcorn kinds can affect quality, taste, and pop-ability, the ultimate key to this gourmet treat is how it is farmed, harvested, dried, and stored.
So, how is popcorn harvested?
A Brief History
Popcorn has been a snack known to humankind for centuries. Archaeologists have even discovered popcorn fragments dating back to roughly 3600 BC in Mexico! Many historians believe popcorn was the first maize that humans encountered.
In modern history, popcornbecame a favorite delicacy during the Great Depression because it was so affordable. Since then, people worldwide have been consuming it regularly.
Growing Your Corn
There are multiple steps for growing corn, but let’s just give you the basic coverage:
- Firstly, remember that there are several types of corn to choose from. Be careful in choosing the variety that will grow well in your location.
- In springtime, sow seeds in multiple short rows straight in your garden or your field. The symmetry will aid in easy pollination.
- Warning! Sweet corn should not be planted in the same region as popcorn. If sweet corn is cross-pollinated with popcorn, the quality of the sweet corn will suffer.
- Water, fertilize and weed your garden regularly. Any severe stress, such as a lack of water, can drastically impact yields and popcorn quality.
Harvest – The Fruit of the Labor!
You can begin to harvest the corn when the silks become brown and the kernels are fully grown, firm, and well colored. Allow as much time as possible for corn to dry on the stalks, enabling the kernels to dry naturally on the ear.
Harvest and husk the popcorn, then store the ears in a dry, well-ventilated area to cure further. The drying period varies depending on the weather and can range from one week to three or more.
When the kernels fall rapidly off the cob and the moisture content is around 13 to 14 percent, the ears of popcorn are ready to shell.
You can also pop a couple of kernels to see how it tastes! To pop them, microwave kernels or an ear in a folded paper bag. You can add salt or drip in butter afterwards – for now, you only want to check whether or not they pop well and taste delicious.
If the corn pops, it’s time to shell it. Roll the kernels from the cob using your hand, pressing hard with your thumb. It’s a good idea to use a thick glove during shelling, because that makes the entire process much easier.
Keep the shelled corn in a moisture-proof, sealed plastic or glass container in a cool, dry area. Popcorn should not be kept in a hot atmosphere or the refrigerator since the kernels will dry up. Even a 3% moisture loss can cause your popcorn to become unpoppable.
To make the kernels pop again, add a tablespoon of water per quart of popcorn. Close the container and shake or stir the kernels to absorb the fluid. In a few days, try popping again.
Popcorn can remain poppable for a long time if properly cured and stored. Researchers discovered ancient popcorn kernels dating back 1,000 years in graves on Peru’s east coast, and the kernels still popped! Amazing, right?
After you’ve picked your popcorn, place it somewhere cool and dry. Pull the husks back, remove the strings, and hang them on a clothesline indoors or underneath with clothespins.
Some people have success removing the husks and hanging mesh bags of ears, so you can try out that option too. Move the bags about every few days, especially if you live in a humid area, and look for signs of mold or mildew where the ears of corn touch.
Keep the kernels in airtight, sealed containers. If stored correctly, popcorn should keep its popping quality for several years.
It’s also highly possible that the stored popcorn remains a little too dry. To combat that, add one tablespoon of water to a quart of popcorn. Cover and shake often until the popcorn has absorbed all of the liquid. Test pop a few kernels after 3 or 4 days to see whether it’s ready. Repeat the process with more water until the popcorn pops well.
Popping the Kernels
The kernels are ready to pop once they have dried. Simply quarter-fill a glass dish with the kernels, cover with cling film, and microwave on high for around a couple of minutes, or until the popping stops.
Avoid using plastic bowls, even microwave-safe ones, since the kernels tend to get very hot before popping, which might cause pitting or melting of the plastic bowl, according to our experience (trust us, we do not recommend).
To pop in a pot, heat half a teaspoon of cooking oil or butter, then add a quarter-cup of kernels before covering with the lid; once the rush of pops has subsided, remove from the heat.
You can experiment with different cooking oils to increase the flavor of the popcorn, And if you’re interested in learning more about the different types of oil you can use with popcorn, pop on over to our article about what oil to use.
In any case, while there’s nothing wrong with plain or salted popcorn (you’ll be surprised how tasty it is), you can jazz it up with various toppings to make it extra special.
For example, drizzle molasses over popped kernels or pour a little honey into a hot, buttered corn bowl. Delicious homemade caramel corn may be prepared by melting brown sugar and butter together and mixing it into a popcorn container.
We hope this article proved helpful in finding out how your favorite snack is grown, harvested, stored, and made ready to pop! After all, to get the best popcorn, you need the best kernels. And what better way to get them than sourcing them yourself?