Popcorn is a popular snack food around the world that is enjoyed in a multitude of different ways. It’s naturally high in fiber and antioxidants and low in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium. How much do you really know about this snack food though, beyond its nutritional value? The history of popcorn is actually much more interesting than you might think.
A Brief History
Popcorn was enjoyed long before movie theaters ever existed. While it’s difficult to determine precisely when popcorn was first discovered, archaeologists have found remnants of popcorn in Mexico dating back to 3600 B.C. The term “popped corn” didn’t appear until 1848, however, in John Russell Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms. The popcorn business really took off in the United States in the 1890’s when a Chicago candy store owner, Charles Cretors, invented the popcorn maker. During the Great Depression, popcorn prices continued to remain relatively low which made it a very popular food. Popcorn’s initial introduction to movie theaters was met with disdain from theater owners until they realized the potential lucrativeness of this market. In 1938, a Midwestern theater became the first to install popcorn machines in its lobby. The popcorn trend continued to spread with the invention of microwave popcorn bags in 1981 and its popularity has continued ever since.
Illinois’ Connection to Popcorn
Not only was the popcorn machine invented by a Chicagoan, but Ridgway, Illinois claims to be the “Popcorn Capital of the World” (along with 5 other Midwestern localities). Illinois is also the third largest grower of popcorn in the United States with 47,000 acres of popping corn grown on 333 farms. Popcorn is even considered to be the official state snack food!
Today, Americans consume approximately 13 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually. This amounts to 42 quarts per person! Dozens of different brands of popcorn exist and you can find popcorn in just about every flavor imaginable. While popcorn is a whole grain and is regarded as a healthy snack, some of the preparation methods and ingredients used in commercially available pre-popped popcorn add a lot of sodium, sugar, and fat into the mix. Almost all movie theater popcorn is loaded with extra calories, fat, and sodium as well. So enjoy your popcorn, but keep those nutrition facts panels in mind while you’re at it.