It’s a comfort food. It’s a snack food. No … It’s Super Popcorn. Just in time for our need to crunch, we have upon on us National Popcorn Day, and it’s not as trivial as one might think.
Consider this: The average American eats conservatively 38 quarts of popcorn annually, though some sources estimate almost double that. If that person is not you, then it’s your neighbor or family member. Alternatively, it just might be you, and you’ve lost count of the kernels.
But on this day, January 19, National Popcorn Day, we have many reasons to celebrate popcorn that goes beyond our immense consumption. Here are just a few favorite factoids:
- Popcorn is America’s oldest snack: Some historians date the inception of popcorn to Mexico 10,000 years ago. We know for certain that in 1948, Herbert Dick and Earle Smith discovered small heads of corn in New Mexico in what is known as a “bat cave.” They popped the kernels, and “popcorn” as we know it, was born. Those bat-cave kernels have been carbon-dated to be 5,600 years old.
- From its inception, popcorn was a versatile snack: Early on, it was used as a breakfast cereal when combined with milk and sugar. Others added molasses to their popcorn, serving as a kind of kettle corn. Over the years, our experimentation with popcorn has continued, adding cheese, caramel, chocolate, hot spices—you name it. And always, there will be the purists for whom adding butter and salt is simply the best.
- Great timing spurred on our popcorn adoption: The truism, “Timing is everything,” applies to popcorn too. In 1885, a commercial popcorn popper was invented, which enabled street-side production and an easy purchase for pedestrians walking by. Soon after, around the turn of the century, movie theatres came into existence. The roaming popcorn vendors would park themselves right outside of movie theatres and sell away. The metaphoric seed was planted for popcorn, becoming the must-have classic snack for moviegoers.
- Popcorn became our comfort food during the Great Depression. It was affordable and didn’t require sugar and other food items that were later rationed during World War II. Also, its crunch became a natural outlet for our stress. Popcorn served as a food-hero of sorts.
- As our love affair with popcorn waned, technology gave it a new life: When televisions entered homes, attendance at movie theaters declined significantly, taking with it the sale of popcorn. As if a harbinger of the future, technology came to the rescue. In 1981, microwave ovens were introduced, providing an easy way to make our favorite snack (we’ll dispense with potential health risks of microwaving this snack on National Popcorn Day). Now, couch potatoes could stay home and enjoy their TV and popcorn with little effort.
Recent times have added new chapters to the glory of popcorn. If your focus is on health and fat content, consider this: One cup of au naturel popcorn is 31 calories, compared to a similar cup of potato chips with a dissimilar 140 calorie-count. Popcorn is gluten-free, 100 percent whole grain, and devoid of allergens. There is almost nothing we can say to slam this snack when eaten in a wholesome state.
We have other reasons to celebrate the day. Let’s say you’re the type who loves efficiency of all things. Popcorn performs here, too. It turns out that for good quality popcorn, we can expect only 2% of the kernels to be un-popped (Note to self: I must buy better popcorn).
And if you’re the type who feasts on science and how matter transforms itself, consider this: Each kernel contains a minuscule amount of water which when heated, turns to steam, and pop goes the kernel.
For all these reasons and more, it’s a day to toast our favorite and historic snack. Especially after the year we’ve experienced where we’ve been stressed, siloed at home, wondering about the future, and streaming endless movies, popcorn has become one of our best companions.
Even better—as if we need one more reason to celebrate the day—popcorn is the kind of topic where most everyone agrees. No one gets triggered as we land in a safe and comforting space.
Popcorn—dress it up, dress it down. Hoard it, or offer it as a gourmet gift. Its range and delectability have immeasurably improved our life.