20 Tasty Popcorn Facts

Does anything capture the familiar comfort of the cinema experience more than delving into a freshly-popped carton of popcorn?

Whether you like it sweet or salty, nothing evokes the sense of cinema more than the sight and smell of popcorn.

But do you know all the mystery and history itching to pop out from these golden grains?

Dive headfirst with us into a freshly-popped feast of facts about the greatest cinema snack of all time.


1. Popcorn jargon #1

In the popcorn industry, an individual piece of popped corn is known as a flake. You only call it a kernel before it gets its pop on.

Also, you know those kernels that steadfastly refuse to pop?

They are known as spinsters or old maids – a term that is long overdue for an update. We think ‘Non-Poppin-Bois’ sounds good, but what do you call them?

2. What’s inside a popcorn kernel?

If it’s not already super obvious, popcorn is a type of corn (or maize) and, just like other cereal crops, its seeds (kernels) have three main parts: the germ or embryo (a good source of vitamin E), the endosperm (that’s the main starchy bit that expands into popcorn’s fluffy white body), and the outer hull known as the pericarp (that’s where most of the fibre is).

None of this makes popcorn any tastier, but it’s good to know while you snack.

3. Deck the halls with... popcorn?

In some Balkan countries (and in various bits of the USA), popped popcorn is threaded onto string and used as a wall decoration or to drape over Christmas trees to make them look delicious festive.

Sounds like way too much of a temptation to us.

4. Is popcorn a superfood?

Probably not. Certainly not if it’s dripping in melted butter, coated in white chocolate or has a kilo of peanut M&Ms upended over it.

However, freshly popped popcorn does contain more protein than any other cereal grain, has lots of fibre, and also provides your temple of a body with more iron than eggs or roast beef.

5. Popcorn small talk #1

Running out of small talk on a cinema date? We’ve got this.

Why not dazzle your date with the knowledge that popcorn kernels come in three shapes, rice, pearl and South American? Most of the popcorn we eat is popped from the pearl type. You’re welcome.

6. Popcorn’s for the high jump!

Did you know that kernels of popcorn can jump up to three feet in the air?

Not on their own, obviously. That would be weird and unsettling. But apply heat and when the kernels pop, the explosive force is mighty impressive.

7. Popcorn: the science bit

On the subject of popcorn’s popping power, here’s the science of what goes on when you heat the kernels.

  • Unlike many grains, the shell (pericarp!) of a popcorn kernel is not water permeable. That means it’s sealed and the moisture inside each one has nowhere to go.
  • Heating popcorn kernels up to 175-180°C (347-356°F), turns that tiny bit of water into steam that rapidly expands and increases pressure pushing outwards to around 135psi.
  • When the force inside the kernels grows too great, their shells rupture and the sudden drop in pressure combined with the still expanding steam fluffs up the proteins and starch into the classic popcorn flake.

Who said science was dull?

8. Popcorn: a history

Popcorn is one of the oldest forms of corn and may have existed as early as 4,700 BCE. 1,000-year-old perfectly preserved and poppable kernels have been found in Peru.

On the subject of ancient popcorn- loving peoples, Mexico’s Aztecs used popcorn in ceremonies such as a dance in which women would dance with popcorn garlands in their hair.

So, when you stand up at the end of the film to find a handful of popcorn flakes stuck to your clothes, why not have a little dance before you brush them off?

You’ll be carrying on an ancient tradition celebrating one of the best snacks in the world.

9. Popcorn small talk #2

Here’s another did-you-know popcorn icebreaker for you: not all types of maize (corn) will pop.

Those cultivated specifically for their popping quality are part of the strain Zea Mays, and of these the most ‘pop’-ular (not sorry) is the Everta variety.

10. No pan? No problem!

Before kitchen hobs and microwaves were invented, our popcorn-hungry ancestors used to mix kernels with hot sand to achieve the magic popping conditions.

We can only assume that the popped popcorn flakes launched themselves clear of the sand. Gritty popcorn does not sound nice at all.

11. Popcorn 2.0?

Looking for the next big thing in popped snacks?

Why bother? Popcorn is PERFECT already.

That being said, certain varieties of rice, milo, millet, sorghum and quinoa will pop in a similar way to popcorn. Not sure how we feel about sweet and salty quinoa.

12. Cream of... popcorn?

Ancient Native American peoples were also partial to popcorn. In fact, their popcorn love almost puts ours to shame. They didn’t just pop those irresistible golden kernels, they made beer and soup out of them, too.

Don’t worry, though, you won’t be seeing those two items for sale at your local ODEON any time soon.

13. Help! My popcorn is haunted!

It is said that some Native American tribes believed that each popcorn kernel was home to a tiny spirit. All things being equal, these wee spirits wouldn’t bother humans.

However, when snack-happy people heated the kernels the spirits would get hopping mad that their homes were getting uncomfortably hot and burst out.

14. Hey, you’re onto something there...

One more indication of the general awesomeness of America’s first peoples is their habit of popping partially dried popcorn cobs (the whole thing!) on sticks and popping their corn like that.

Apparently the popcorn flakes would stay on the cob, effectively creating a go-anywhere popcorn lollipop. Genius (and lot more appetising than the hot sand method of cooking).

15. Popcorn and the invention of the microwave oven

Microwaveable popcorn was first launched in 1982 but the humble popcorn kernel had an integral role in the creation of the microwave oven itself back in 1945.

As the story goes, American physicist and inventor Percy Spencer was standing in front of a magnetron (basically a physics doohickey that produces microwaves) when he felt the chocolate bar in his pocket melting.

Rather than dwelling on what the atom-agitating microwaves might be doing to him, Percy saw a speedy cooking opportunity and started experimenting with other foods starting with (you guessed it) popcorn kernels. The rest is mouthwatering history.

16. Popcorn jargon #2

Have you ever noticed that popcorn kernels pop into one of two basic shapes?

Popcorn scientists – that’s totally a thing – refer to them as the snowflake and the mushroom.

The mushroom is the almost perfectly round ball that offers no glimpses of the kernel’s split shell beneath. As the name suggests, the snowflake is the one that is more uneven in shape.

While the mushroom shape is more robust, the snowflake is better at trapping delectable flavourings in its crevices. However, both types are officially categorised as delicious.

17. Patience, popcorn fans...

Did you know that freshly harvested popcorn can be popped, too?

However, due to its higher moisture content, it doesn’t fluff up brilliantly, leading to a chewy, substandard mouthfeel.

Popcorn kernels are infinitely better if you dry them out for a while first.

Better still, let us do the popping for you at ODEON.

18. Popcorn and cinema: a love story

In the early 20th-century enterprising popcorn vendors started selling their freshly popped product outside cinemas. Initially, cinema owners were not at all happy about this development, fearing that the popcorn would distract its customers from the big-screen (well, it is very tasty).

However, when it became clear that this worry was unfounded, cinemas got into the act themselves, the joyful connection between great films and handfuls of warm popcorn having already become forged in punters’ minds.

From 1912 on, a visit to the cinema wasn’t complete without a box or bag of popcorn.

19. Automatic for the people

We invite you to join us in saluting Mr Charles D. Cretors, the inventor of the world’s first mobile corn-popping machine. Debuted to great acclaim alongside the very best of American ingenuity, culture and invention at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Cretors’ popcorn wagon was a marvel because it consistently made perfectly popped popcorn batch after batch after batch.

As word – and the delicious aroma of popping corn – spread around the expo, long lines began to form and Americans’ modern love affair with the snack began in earnest.

20. Rise and shine for popcorn!

Love popcorn but hate the hours it keeps?

Well, who said popcorn could only be eaten in the afternoon and evening while watching films?

Certainly not people in the early 1900s who routinely took to eating popcorn as a breakfast cereal.

A bowl of popcorn, sugar, milk, maybe some fresh fruit... It sounds like a recipe for a chewy wet mess to us but, yes, we’re definitely going to try it.

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