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Popcorn History and Facts

Archaeologists have uncovered proof that popcorn had been around long before the arrival of the Europeans in the New World. Excavations in the Bat Cave of West Central New Mexico turned up popcorn ears nearly 5,600 years old, according to radio-carbon tests. An 80,000 year-old fossil pollen found 200 feet below Mexico City has been identified as corn pollen. In tombs on the east coast of Peru, researchers uncovered 1,000-year-old grains of popcorn so well preserved they still pop.

Today, Americans consume 17 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually or 59 quarts per man, woman and child. Most of the popcorn consumed throughout the world is grown in the United States. The major popcorn producing states are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio.

 

Why Does Popcorn Pop?

Each kernel of popcorn contains a certain amount of moisture and oil. Unlike most other grains, the outer hull of the popcorn kernel is both strong and impervious to moisture, and the starch inside consists almost entirely of a hard, dense type.

As the oil and the water are heated past the boiling point, they turn the moisture in the kernel into a superheated pressurized steam, contained within the moisture-proof hull. Under these conditions, the starch inside the kernel gelatinizes, softening and becoming pliable. The pressure continues to increase until the breaking point of the hull is reached: a pressure of about 135 psi (930 kPa) and a temperature of 180°C. The hull ruptures rapidly, causing a sudden drop in pressure inside the kernel and a corresponding rapid expansion of the steam, which expands the starch and proteins of the endosperm into airy foam. As the foam rapidly cools, the starch and protein polymers set into the familiar crispy puff.

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