History of Popcorn
Pop! Pop! Pop! Don't you love the smell of fresh popped corn? Popcorn's
history dates back over 5,000 years ago. It's believed by archaeologists
and researchers to be the oldest of a group of five sweet corns; Indian
corn, pod corn, popcorn, sweet corn and field corn. Ancient corn pollen
(not popcorn variety) has been found and judged to be 80,000 years old.
This pollen was found two hundred feet below where the site of Mexico
City sits today.
Popcorn was originally grown in Mexico but somehow it had spread globally
through India, China and Sumatra years before the first European explorers
arrived on North America's shores.
Popcorn ears over 5,600 years old was found in the Bat Cave in New Mexico
in 1948 and 1950. The size of these ears of popcorn ranged from 1/2 inch
to 2 inches long and are the oldest ears of popcorn known.
Popcorn was popped by throwing it on sizzling hot stones tended over a
raging campfire. Naturally, as it popped it shot off in various directions.
The game was to catch the popcorn and the reward was snacking on it.
Grains of popcorn over 1,000 years old were disvovered on Peru's east
coast. Preservation methods of the Peruvian Indians was so advanced that
1,000 years later, this corn still pops.
The Indians of North and South America popped corn 2,000 years ago. Teenage
girls today would most likely balk at wearing popcorn to the prom but
Christopher Columbus, in 1492, observed West Indian natives wearing popcorn
corsages as well as using popped corn to decorate ceremonial headdresses.
Columbus noted in his memoirs that Indians sold popcorn to his sailors.
Cortez, another European global explorer, wrote in his diaries Aztecs
decorated ceremonial garb with popped corn. He noted it symbolized goodwill
and peace and how the Aztecs made necklaces and other ornaments for the
god's statues with the grain, especially that of the god Tialoc, the god
of rain, fertility and maize (corn).
An amazingly clear documentation of popcorn comes from an early account
of a Spaniard. He records observations of a ceremony honoring the Aztec
god watching over fishermen. "They scattered before him parched corn,
called momchitl, a kind of corn that bursts when parched and discloses
its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower; they said
these were hailstones given to the god of water."
French explorers, about 1612 in the Great Lakes region, made mention in
their documents the use of popcorn by the Iroquois. This popcorn was popped
in pottery with heated sand. The Frenchmen took part in an Iroquois dinner
that included popcorn soup and popcorn beer.
Popcorn was spreading through almost all tribes of North and South America
by the time the Pilgrims arrived. Quadequina, a brother of Chief Massasoit
of the Wampanoag tribe brought popcorn to the first Thanksgiving dinner
in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Indians brought popcorn to many of the
meetings with colonists as a goodwill gesture - kind of like their contribution
to the potluck meal.
Ancient poppers made of soapstone, pottery and metal have been found in
Indian excavation sites. Most of these have tripod legs and are large
clay containers with lids to be set directly in the fire. They were used
with and without oil, depending on preference.
Some Indian tribes discovered the delicacy of popping oiled popcorn while
it was still on the cob. Somehow the corn stayed attached to the cob and
it was eaten in the same manner as corn on the cob. This is the ancestor
of buttered popcorn. The Winnebago Indians have a long history of enjoying
popcorn on the cob, stabbing a stick through the cob and holding the ear
close to the fire.
During this time, crude popcorn poppers were being invented. Some were
small mesh baskets fashioned with a handle made by blacksmiths. Poppers
have been found measuring up to eight feet across to handle large amounts.
The colonists loved popcorn so much they served it with sugar and cream
for breakfast. This was the very first puffed breakfast cereal.
Popcorn carts were seen on every street always following the crowds after
their invention in 1885. These were steam and gas poppers easily pushed
through parks, fairs, carnivals, conventions and expositions. Home versions
of popcorn poppers were invented in 1925 and quickly snapped up by those
able to afford them. Believe it or not, poppers started being manufactured
by young teenagers in junior-high metal shop classes to keep up with the
Popcorn eating thrived until the Great Depression. It was one of the few
luxuries families could afford. Sugar was rationed and sent overseas to
soldiers during World War II so candy was scarce. Because of this, the
American consumer ate more popcorn, in fact, three times more popcorn
than usually consumed.
However, this upswing was temporarily doomed. As television came into
existence and going to movie theaters slowed down, so did popcorn snacking.
It took a few years for people to get back into the popcorn habit in front
of the small screen. But as you can see Jolly, Jiffy Pop and Orville Redenbacher
rake in billions of dollars and popcorn enthusiasts live on.
The Papago Indians of Arizona still to this day pop corn in clay pots
up to eight feet wide. These pots are known as 'ollas'. Researchers have
documented these poppers go back in design 1,500 years to the South American
Indian and Mexican cultures.
Microwave popcorn is responsible for $250 billion yearly sales by itself.
Experiments with popcorn and the microwave date back to 1945. Perry Spencer
then experimented with other foods.
Today the American public eats over one billion pounds of popcorn per
year; translating to seventeen and a half billion quarts! The average
American chows down on approximately 70 quarts per person yearly.