Where Do Popcorn Kernels Come From?

Something that might have never crossed your mind before is: where exactly does popcorn come from? Or more specifically, where do popcorn kernels come from? You will be pleased to know that this is a question that not all that many people know the answer to.

We can confirm that popcorn does not just magically appear from your microwave, or it does not grow in the backrooms of movie theaters.

The corns used for popcorn ARE different from field corns

You might be surprised to learn that there is a pretty big variety of corn out there, and the kind of corn that is needed to make popcorn is not the same as field corn and sweet corn. You might also think that popcorn comes from dried corn kernels, but drying out popcorn seeds will not make the popcorn pop – they will end up sticking to the very bottom of the pan.

If you are still unsure as to what makes the corn become popcorn, well the answer to this is the seed. The popcorn kernels themselves actually come from one of the only varieties of maize known as zea mays everta. It can be said that they look a lot like sweet corn, but only zea mays var. everta (also referred to as popcorn) has the ability to be able to pop and then turn a bowl of seeds into a pretty yummy snack.

Where Do Popcorn Kernels Actually Come From?

So, let’s get into all the details on where exactly popcorn kernels come from. The popcorn plant (this is zea mays everta) is a Native American Plant and this is a plant that is grown just for its taste and pretty delicious exploding kernels. Farmers will grow two types of popcorn and this is namely the pearl variety or the rice variety.

The difference between these two is that the pearl popcorn has rounded kernels whereas the rice popcorn variety has an elongated kernel. If you decide to grow sweet corn and popcorn in the same garden then the results could end up being pretty disappointing. This is all down to cross pollination. Your end result could be poor quality sweet corn, and you will also yield a pretty high percentage of unpopped kernels.

Is Popcorn Made From Sweet Corn?

This is another question that a lot of people will find themselves wondering, but being too embarrassed to ask is: is popcorn made from sweet corn? So, now you know that you are not the only person who is wondering this!

The straight answer to this is that no, popcorn is not made from sweet corn. It is good to note that corns can actually be grouped into four categories and we can outline these as follows:

  • Ornamental corns – these corns are usually utilized for decoration when we are celebrating autumnal festivities, such as Halloween or just autumn in general. These corns are derived from pop type corn and they have smaller ears which are suitable for indoors too.
  • Sweet corn – as you know, this is a vegetable that is used in a vast number of recipes and soups. These corns are picked when they are in a more immature state, and this is often known as the milk stage. So, rather than sweetcorn being starchy it is sweet.
  • Popcorns – these popcorns are extremely unique due to the fact that they contain starchy endosperm. This expands when it gets heated and this is what pops the corn inside out. In fact, this type of corn is hard and it also possesses a moisture resistant hull – it is a whole grain.
  • Field corn – so, this type of corn can be found in flint type or in dent type. These corns are hard and shelled and it is often used for animal feed. Field corn can also be consumed in the form of a corn meal or in the form of a polenta.

How Does Corn Cross Pollinate?

So, now we have outlined where exactly popcorn seeds come from we can proceed to discover how exactly corn can cross pollinate. The actual process of pollination happens all with the help of the wind because it swirls around all the fine dust. This is what actually promotes cross pollination.

There are some corns which are self-pollinating, but a vast majority of corn relies on other plants standing next to them for pollination.

Yeah, corn can cross-pollinate. In fact, there are a major variety of popcorns which cross pollinate pretty easily, but it is important to note that the end result might not actually be as productive as the parent plant would be. The hybrid strains will actually make less or no kernels and dilute over time, which will result in plants that have been cultivated poorly.

The Growing Conditions Which Popcorn Needs

To be able to grow corn then the plant will need a lot of sun along with well-drained soil. Before you plant the seeds you will need to work a 2-inch to 4-inch layer of compost and then you will need to spread the fertilizer over the soil.

It is important to remember that you will need to water the soil as thoroughly as possible as this will really help the plant to grow. You should also consider selecting a location which has pretty straightforward access to an irrigation system because popcorn plants will need a lot of water to grow.

Whilst you are planting the popcorn seeds, you need to make sure that you grow the plant in groups because this will ensure good pollination. If the seeds are planted at a distance then the plant could result in poorly filled or even no kernels at all. If you grow the corn in several short rows then this can result in well-filled popcorn kernels.

What Really Makes the Corn Pop?

So, we thought we’d end on a lighter note and delve into what exactly makes popcorn pop… Just kidding! We did this already. We thought it would be fun to delve into some of the folkloric myths behind why popcorn pops.

According to the popular North American tribe folklore – spirits dwelled within a kernel of popcorn. These spirits were happy, and quiet and content with their own lives but they become violent and aggressive when their houses get heated.

The hotter that their homes got then the angrier that they became – eventually they would burst out of their house and into the air as an annoyed puff of steam. This is the reason why people believed that popcorn popped when it was heated above a specific temperature.

Yeah, yeah… We know spirits don’t reside in popcorn, but this is a pretty great folkloric myth to end on! Or do they…

Andy Waters
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