Most of us associate popcorn with the movies, but the truth is the snack mainstay has been around much, much longer than Hollywood.
Researchers and scientists have made findings that make it clear early civilizations munched on popcorn thousands of years ago.
Because popcorn is so simple to make, it became a staple for a number of cultures scattered around the world. Making popcorn – done in popcorn machines at movies and microwaves at home – simply involves heating a type of corn. The kernel expands and puffs up.
It’s just that simple. So simple that people have been doing it thousands of years.
Corn was first cultivated in Mexico about 9,000 years ago. The oldest evidence of popcorn is 5,600 years old and was discovered in a cave in New Mexico.
In Peru, archeologists have found kernels of popcorn so well-preserved that they can still be popped, according to Fact Monster. In a cave in Utah, 1,000-year-old popcorn was found that still looked fresh. And in Mexico, a 1,700-year-old funeral urn is decorated with a corn god depicted wearing a headdress of – you guessed it – popcorn.
Clearly, popcorn was one of early mankind’s favorite foods.
Explorers Christopher Columbus in the West Indies and Hernan Cortes in Mexico both came across the same thing: native tribes in these areas were eating popcorn, as well as wearing it on necklaces and headdresses.
Native Americans even brought a bag of popcorn to the first Thanksgiving, according to Fact Monster. It wasn’t long before Europeans began enjoying popcorn, themselves.
The popularity of popcorn grew in both Europe and the United States – but especially the United States.
By 1840, there was a recipe for popping corn from Daniel Browne, according to PBS. It involved rubbing the corn kernels in lard and cooking them in a pan over an open fire.
In 1848, the first use of the term “popcorn” occurred in “Dictionary of Americanism,” according to PBS, which reported that dictionary author John Russell Bartlett said the name came from “the noise it makes on bursting open.”
By the first half on the 20th Century, you could buy popcorn in any number of places in the U.S., including in parks, outside theaters and, of course, at the movies.
The average American today now eats 70 quarts of popcorn per year. Additionally, most of the corn for popcorn now comes from Nebraska and Indiana.
So that’s an overview of how popcorn came into being, and how it swept around the world as a snack. And nowhere has that been truer than in the U.S., where popcorn and movies came together, and you can find microwave bags of popcorn in almost every home.