Popcorn: Popping with flavor and history

What do you know about popcorn?

I love popcorn and come from a popcorn loving family. We ate popcorn once or twice a week without fail. It was cooked on the stove in what is still referred to as the “popcorn pan” (a two quart covered saucepan). My dad made the popcorn and thrilled us by letting it pop way above the top of the pan, holding it in place with the lid. I no longer cook it on the stove or in an electric popper, or a hot air popper; the microwave does all the work now and I simply pour it in the bowl.

Did you know that the average American consumes nearly 70 quarts of popcorn a year; approximately 16 billion quarts of popcorn. That’s just one of the facts about popcorn that surprised me – here are more facts you may find interesting about this popular snack.

  • Popcorn originated in the Americas.
  • Popcorn probably grew first in Mexico, though it was also used in China and India hundreds of years before Columbus reached the Americas.
  • Excavations in the Bat Cave of West Central New Mexico turned up popcorn ears nearly 5,600 years old, according to radio-carbon tests.
  • Europeans learned about popcorn from Native Americans. When Cortes invaded Mexico, and when Columbus arrived in the West Indies, each saw natives eating popcorn, as well as using it in necklaces and headdresses.
  • In southwestern Utah, a 1,000-year-old popped kernel of popcorn was found in a dry cave inhabited by predecessors of the Pueblo Indians.
  • Popcorn wasn’t mentioned in early farm papers and seed trade catalogs until around 1880, but once the American public discovered it, popcorn's popularity quickly grew.
  • In the United States 25 states grow popcorn, with Nebraska contributing one-fourth of popcorn production. Indiana is just behind Nebraska and Illinois; Ohio and Missouri produce popcorn as well.
  • Ounce for ounce, popcorn has more protein and phosphorus than potato chips (and more iron than eggs and spinach).
  • Popcorn is gluten free and when ground, can be used in place of breadcrumbs for coating on your favorite meat.
  • Popcorn is a “whole grain,” which means it’s a good source of dietary fiber. In fact, one cup has 1.3 grams of fiber.
  • Popcorn is one of the least expensive snack foods on the market today.
  • Popcorn is low in calories; just 31 calories for one cup air popped popcorn!
  • Popping popcorn is one of the number one uses for microwave ovens.
  • There is no such thing as “hull-less” popcorn. All popcorn needs a hull in order to pop.
  • How high can popcorn kernels pop? Up to three feet in the air!
  • Popcorn provides energy producing complex carbohydrates
  • Three cups of popcorn equal one serving from the grain group.
  • Popcorn has no artificial additives or preservatives and is sugar-free.

A whole grain, a complex carbohydrate and no sugar? Sounds like a great choice for a snack. For more information about popcorn visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.

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