Written by Samuel Phineas Upham
Popcorn is the movie-goers treat. It’s a type of corn kernel that expands when heated, building pressure within the starchy interior. The end result is a “pop” or a small explosion that forces the starch out of the moisture-sealed hull. As the starch cools, it forms the crunchy substance we know as popcorn.
Popcorn dates back to ancient Egypt, but those early forms were not quite what we know of today. The bible mentions corn, but they are most likely talking about barley. The English also spoke of wheat as corn, while the Scotts used the term to describe oats.
It is widely believed that the domestication of corn is directly related to popcorn. Corn was very important to the Aztecs, who used the skin and ears to make skirts and head dresses worn by women while performing ceremonial dances. Cortez had his first experiences with popcorn there, noting how the Aztecs used the popped kernels as decorations in necklaces.
The popcorn industry thrived throughout the American Great Depression, where bags of it sold for 5-10 cents. This came at a time when sugar rations were shorted. Americans filled in the candy gap with popcorn, and the treat eventually became the official state snack of Illinois.
The first version of caramel corn came in 1896, sold at the World’s Fair by F.W. Rueckheim. The recipe was slightly altered by his brother, who managed to turn the new concoction into “Cracker Jacks,” that are still sold in stores today.