White: Popcorn has been a tasty snack for 5,000 years

As promised, I will continue the discussion about the many different foods that come from corn.

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As promised, I will continue the discussion about the many different foods that come from corn.

Most of the corn grown in the world is yellow dent corn, but it’s not the only kind of corn that is grown. There is a wide range, from the tasty sweet corn we eat in the summer to the multi-coloured corn we use to decorate in the fall.

Another special type of corn is popcorn.

Popcorn is corn with a strong hull. When the kernels are heated, the moisture inside turns to steam. The steam builds pressure until the hull bursts open. The interior of the kernel expands from 20 to 50 times its original size.

A popped kernel is referred to a flake. Flakes are classified as either “mushroom” or a “butterfly” flakes. A mushroom flake is shaped like a ball, while a butterfly flake is irregular and has a number of protruding wings.

Popcorn is said to have been eaten in North America since at least 3000 BC.

During the 19th century, popcorn was served as a breakfast meal, with the flakes being mixed with milk and sugar.


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Popcorn as a snack started to increase in popularity during the Great Depression because it was cheaper than other snack alternatives. Popcorn became associated with watching movies during the Second World War, as rationing reduced the amount of sugar that was available for sweet treats. Eventually, cinema owners figured out there was more money in selling popcorn than in selling movie tickets (something I think still holds today).

From a nutritional perspective, popcorn is a good source of fibre, but what you add to the popcorn has an influence on how good a snack it may be for you. Popcorn can be flavoured for a sweet or a savoury taste, or it can be buttered and salted.

Cracker Jack, meanwhile, has been making caramel-coated popcorn since the 1890s.

Kettle corn is a mixture of both, with sugar and salt as flavouring agents.

Another way to get both sweet and savoury is Chicago-style popcorn, a blend of caramel corn and cheese-flavoured corn. It’s very delicious but very messy.

Popcorn has great utility. It can be strung together with a needle and thread for decorations and then taken outside to feed the birds through the winter.

So as we move into winter and you are looking for a snack while you watching TV or reading a book, remember to think about popcorn.

There are a number of local producers that offer pre-popped in bags, kernels ready to cook and popcorn still on the cob (which can be a fun way to cook).

Chris White lives in former Harwich Township, next door to where he grew up. Chris has been employed in agri-business for over 20 years. He is passionate about food, rural communities and agriculture. He can be reached at white.christopherdavid@gmail.com.

“Remember that here in Chatham-Kent ‘We Grow for the World’. Check out our community’s agriculture website at: wegrowfortheworld.com

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