History of popcorn

For most people, movie watching experience isn’t complete without ¬†popcorn in the picture. Individuals from all over the world have become so used to munching on these salty snacks that they don’t try to look at how the snack’s discoverers actually came up with the idea of popping corn ears to add a crunchy twist to the food. What people don’t know is that tracing the history of popcorn can actually teach them not only the snack’s origins, but also in the development of culture throughout the years.

Latin American history of popcorn

Interestingly enough, popcorn’s roots can be traced to almost 100,000 years ago. Archeologists discovered traces of corn pollen, which closely resembles the movie time snack, in Mexico, which they dated to be about 80,000 years old, lending support to the idea that the so-called cavemen actually enjoyed popping corn for food. Another popcorn fossil was found between 1948 and 1950 in the Bat Cave of central New Mexico, which is believed to be 5,600 years old. Undated corn kernels were also found in Peruvian tombs that are so well-preserved that these can actually be popped. Implements found near these food items led researchers to believe that the ancient civilizations cooked popcorn by throwing the kernels on top of stones that are placed on top of campfires to get these to pop.

Popping to America

The delicious goodness of popcorn can’t be kept in only one region, which is why the popped snacks eventually traveled from South America to North America. During his visit to the West Indies in 1492, Christopher Columbus not only saw the popped corn snacks eaten by the natives in the regions, he also noted that these popped kernels were also worn by the people, usually put together to form corsages or attached to headdresses for decoration. The West Indian natives also sold popcorn to the sailors he was with as snack items.

Some documents have also shown that French explorers who visited the Great Lakes region also saw the Iroquois prepare popcorn. Their food preparation was quite different from the South American way of popping corn. Instead of putting the kernels on stones that are placed on top of a fire, they instead placed the kernels in pottery that had heated sand in it. The same French explorers also noted that the Iroquois also prepared popcorn soup and popcorn beer, which they shared to the foreigners.

The Iroquoi way of preparing popcorn was only one method of popping the kernels. Explorers have also managed to excavate implements used for popping corn. These cooking implements usually included pottery, soapstone, and metal, which are put on top of a tripod and set on top of a fire to pop the kernels. Oil may or may not be used in the cooking process, depending on the preferences of those who will be eating the snacks. Other documents showed that the Native Americans, particularly the Winnebago Indians, also experimented with putting oil on the cobs instead of removing the ears before popping.

Popcorn was also one of the food items that the Pilgrims and the Native Americans shared during the first Thanksgiving dinner, held in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The popped corn was brought by Quadequina, the brother of Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoag tribe. The Native Americans brought popcorn to the Pilgrims at different times as a goodwill gesture. The colonists enjoyed the food as well. Eventually, they created the first puffed breakfast cereal by adding milk or cream to the popcorn and having this for breakfast.

Popcorn, the movies, and the Great Depression

Popcorn eating eventually spread throughout the entire country. By the 1800s, just about anyone and everyone were munching on these snacks. Capitalizing on the popularity of popped corn, vendors would sell these in their establishments. Realizing the huge amounts of profit that could be made by selling popcorn, Charlie Cretors developed the first mobile popcorn machine, which he introduced to the public in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition. These machines can be transported by horses or trucks or even pushed on foot. The invention of the portable machine revolutionized the world of popcorn selling. No longer were vendors limited to selling these snacks in their establishments. Vendors brought the popped snacks to fairs, exhibits, carnivals, rallies, and just about anywhere where there are large numbers of people who may be interested in snacking on popcorn.

It was only a matter of time before popcorn vendors and wholesalers would find their way in front of the dime theatres. The snacks quickly became a hit among movie patrons, not only because of its tastiness, but also because it was also quite cheap. Movie theatre owners, especially those who operated fancier establishments, on the other hand, werent big fans of these snacks, primarily because it made cleaning the theatre very difficult, not to mention the fact that popcorn was strongly associated with burlesque at the time.

The Great Depression, and later the world wars, forced these theatre owners to change their tune. As peoples funds dropped, so too did the number of theatre patrons dwindled. As a desperate attempt to regain back the number of people watching movies, theatre owners began selling popcorn from inside the movie houses themselves. Their efforts were successful, as the number of moviegoers increased once again. Eventually, popcorn concessions became integrated with the design of theatres.

World War II again threatened the profits to be made by the theatre owners. Most of the sugar was shipped to the troops, so there wasnt enough to produce candy. In response to this, theatre owners produced even more popcorn. As a result, American moviegoers ended up munching on more popcorn, with their consumption reaching up to three times the previous amount before the war.  Eventually, popcorn and movies became tied together in the minds of theatre patrons, so much so that this became their snack of choice even if candies were reintroduced to the market after the war.

The introduction of television once again threatened the popularity of the theatre, and by extension, the popularity of popcorn. To go around this problem, manufacturers simply made popcorn available to these consumers, and with the introduction of the microwave oven (which was developed in part because of popcorn), the tasty snack has become available to even more people.

How It’s Made: Popcorn!

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