How is Popcorn Made?

Where Does the Corn Come From?

Popcorn has to be one of the greatest snacks there is, it’s so versatile it can be made into a lovely, sweet treat or savory treat, and can even be made healthy if you wanted it to be.

Native to America, the treat has been mainstream for over 100 years, made popular after steam powered popping machines made it easier to pop the kernels in bulk, being cheap, easy to grow, and made it clear why it has become so popular.

It became super popular in movie theaters after the great depression and the second world war after discovering how cheap it was and how easy it was to produce and replace candy.

It’s perfect replacement for candy and was ideal for theater as it was producing some much more revenue than tickets were, and this still holds up today.

Farming

There are 3 main types of corn for consumption; field corn, usually used to feed animals and are hard shelled, sweetcorn which is the vegetable that most people would have eaten at once in their life and then popcorn. Popcorn is far different as it has a very starchy endosperm which causes the pop when it’s heated.

Once the popcorn grows to around 8-10 feet it’s ready to harvest, another way to tell it’s ready is when the stalks and leaves go brown and are dry, and the kernel moisture reaches around 16%-20%. They’re usually harvested by the cob in a combine in bulk by farmers ready for production into popcorn.

Then further down the line it’s processed and taken to the factory ready to be popped and transformed into whatever kind of popcorn the manufacturer has in mind.

Popin / Cookin

The popping (or cooking) of the kernels is what turns it into popcorn. It took a while from the first discovery of popcorn to come out with efficient popping machines as it originally started with an open flame and a basket, but people soon caught on using machines with steam, sugar butter and oils.

Each kernel contains a little bit of water and oil and when it gets heated it turns into steam and pressurizes, when this happens the starch inside the kernel gelatinizes and softens this reaction cause the kernel to explode and then when it cools down rapidly it becomes the lovely soft foamy texture we recognize as popcorn.

These days popcorn can be popped in a variety of ways, mass produced, fresh and movie theaters and home cooking. Mass production is done for companies that will sell their popcorn prepackaged and flavored and typically found on the shelves in stores, theaters will often serve their popcorn pre-flavored but usually limited to sweet, salty, butter and even cheese flavors.

When made at home there are a few ways to make popcorn a couple to mention are on the stove top and in a modern popcorn machine. To achieve different flavors when cooking at home there are a few different ways to do this, you can buy flavor packets that you add whilst popping, you could add your own sugar, syrup butter or even cheese.

Variations

There are two types of popcorn, butterfly and mushroom, the only real difference between the two is the shape they pop into. One pops into a more ball shaped popcorn and this is commonly known as the mushroom and the butterfly pops and kind of splits into two wings held together in the middle.

Butterfly Popcorn – This popcorn is better eaten fresh as it stays nice and crisp, this is the kind you’re more likely to make yourself at home or find freshly popped at theaters, this type of popcorn is more known for its classic flavors like butter, salt, or sugar.

Mushroom Popcorn – This is the popcorn more commonly found in shops with loads of different flavors, the more solid round shape it pops into is far better at taking on the flavor process without breaking as it is sturdier than butterfly popcorn.

Mushroom popcorn being brilliant for holding flavors has opened up an entirely different range of what it can be turned into. Unlike butterfly popcorn which typically sticks to classic tastes, mushroom has been manufactured into all kinds of flavors.

Due to its durability, it can hold its texture and shape much better than butterfly popcorn and it can be made into a sweet or savory flavor, as this covers almost all flavor manufacturers who have gotten very creative with what they have made. From nice, sweet flavors like chocolate and caramel to flavors imitating cookies.

Then the savory range goes even further, as cheese and dairy flavors open up all sorts of ideas. Popcorn is now even made into chip flavors and into spicy or saucy flavors.

Selling / Consuming

Popcorn is now a very popular snack in the US, with over 232.34 million Americans consuming popcorn in 2018. It’s very easy to see why as it’s cheap, tasty and can be served in many ways for many occasions.

First there’s popcorn as a movie snack, it’s nice, filling doesn’t make much noise and for those who can’t stay still during a movie keeps their hands busy as it’s usually sold in large amounts due to its incredible markup.

Then there’s eating it as a sweet or savory treat perhaps at lunch or just a snack you might want during the day especially how it can be bought in multipacks and different size packets. It’s very easy to have store bought or buy some kernels you pop yourself either on the stove, microwave, or popcorn popper.

Even for those on a diet it’s a good snack as it’s relatively filling and can be made healthy as an alternative to candy or chips.

Final Thoughts

The size of the corn industry in the US is enormous and it’s clear to see why there is so much popularity around the food especially when it’s native to the midwest.

With it being easy to grow in large quantities and easy enough to farm and process it’s obvious as to why it has so much money pumped into it and why it continues to grow.

It’s popularity can also be thanks to the movie culture in the US as going to the movies and getting popcorn can be for any occasion, seeing friends, family and even taking someone on a date.

Andy Waters
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