Corn was domesticated about 10,000 years ago in what is now Mexico. Archaeologists discovered that people have known about popcorn for thousands of years. Fossil evidence from Peru suggests that corn was popped as early as 4700 BC. Through the 19th century, popping of the kernels was achieved by hand on stove tops. Kernels were sold on the East Coast of the United States under names such as Pearls or Nonpareil.
Popcorn's accessibility increased rapidly in the 1890s with Charles Cretors' invention of the popcorn maker. Cretors, a Chicago candy store owner, had created a number of steam-powered machines for roasting nuts and applied the technology to the corn kernels. By the turn of the century, Cretors had created and deployed street carts equipped with steam-powered popcorn makers.
During the Great Depression, popcorn was fairly inexpensive at 5–10 cents a bag and became popular. Thus, while other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived and became a source of income for many struggling farmers, including the Redenbacher family, namesake of the famous popcorn brand.
During World War II, sugar rations diminished candy production, and Americans compensated by eating three times as much popcorn as they had before. The snack was popular at theaters, much to the initial displeasure of many of the theater owners, who thought it distracted from the films. Their minds eventually changed, however, and in 1938 a Midwestern theater owner named Glen W. Dickinson Sr. installed popcorn machines in the lobbies of his Dickinson theaters. Popcorn was making more profit than theater tickets, and at the suggestion of his production consultant, R. Ray Aden, Dickinson purchased popcorn farms and was able to keep ticket prices down. The venture was a financial success, and the trend to serve popcorn soon spread.
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 type. As the oil and water within the kernel are heated, they turn the moisture in the kernel into pressurized steam. Under these conditions, the starch inside the kernel gelatinizes, softens, and becomes pliable. The internal pressure of the entrapped steam continues to increase until the breaking point of the hull is reached.
- What has made Mexico contributory to the making of popcorn?
- Where was the first popcorn maker invented?
- Why did the popcorn business flourish even in the midst of the great depression?
- How has popcorn helped the theater industry?
- What does the corn kernel contain?
- Which is responsible for the popping of the kernel?
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