Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012
One of the world's most popular snack foods is "popping" up everywhere we turn. On a recent spin through the market we counted no less than 26 brands and flavors of popcorn, and many more varieties to boot! Clearly there's an explosion in our appetite for this light, fluffy nibble!
Look for these great popcorn products around the store:
How Does a Kernel of Popcorn Pop?
Watch a kernel of popcorn pop in slow motion.
Best viewed in full-screen.
1. When the water sealed in the strong, moisture-proof hull of each kernel of popcorn is heated past the boiling point, it turns into a superheated pressurized steam.
2. The starch inside the kernel gelatinizes, softens and becomes pliable.
3. The pressure continues to increase until the breaking point of the hull is reached (when the interior temperature reaches about 356°).
4. The hull ruptures rapidly, causing a sudden drop in pressure inside the kernel.
5. As the hull ruptures, steam in the kernel rapidly expands the starch and proteins into an airy foam.
6. As the foam rapidly cools, the kernel's starch and proteins set into a mushroom or butterfly shaped puff called a "flake."
Good to Know - Popcorn Edition:
- Kettle corn refers to a sweet and salty snack that was first introduced in the U.S. in the early 18th century when it was popped in huge iron kettles and sweetened with sugar, honey and molasses.
- Most of the popcorn for snacking is specifically grown for this purpose. In the U.S., popcorn is grown widely in Texas, Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana.
- Popcorn pops when the starchy interior reaches about 356°F.
- Caramel popcorn was introduced in 1893 by F.W. Rueckheim. His brother Louis introduced Cracker Jack 3 years later.
- Kernels of popcorn may pop into one of two main shapes – butterfly or mushroom. Mushroom-shaped "flakes" are round with few irregular, protruding "wings," typical of a butterfly-shaped "flake." Hybrid popcorn varieties that produce strictly one or the other flake shape are relatively new inventions, with a strictly mushroom-shaped variety being less than 14 years old.
- There is evidence that popcorn has been around for at least 5,000 years. Scientists have discovered unpopped kernels believed to have been from 3,500 B.C. in the southwestern U.S. and South America.
- Popcorn contains 40 nutrients, including vitamins E and B, riboflavin and thiamine. It contains more protein than any other cereal grain and is rich in fiber. The iron content of popcorn is higher than even spinach, peanuts, eggs or some beef. It is also naturally sugar-free and sodium-free and very low in calories and fat. However, most popcorn eaten as a snack is loaded with added fat, salt and sugar to enhance flavor.