Let’s be honest. Movie night at home or the cinema won’t be complete without a bag of hot and freshly popped popcorn.
With its irresistible aroma that wafts throughout the room and a wide variety of flavors you can choose from, popcorn is definitely a go-to snack for everyone.
But have you ever wondered about the history behind your favorite movie snack? Or why it has become a staple snack for people when watching movies?
If yes, read on to learn about popcorn’s origins here.
Although the precise origins of popcorn are still a hot topic of debate, it’s believed that it began as a teosinte plant, a wild grass native to southwestern Mexico, roughly 10,000 years ago.
The teosinte plant is considered the ancestor or mother of corn. Scholars stated that ancient farmers cultivated and developed teosinte, evolving into today’s “corn.”
Unlike the modern corn we see today, teosinte differs in appearance. It has a smaller ear with five to 12 kernels encased in a hard coating. The kernels are also not placed close together. In contrast, modern corn has a 12-inch ear with about 500 or more kernels in rows.
Archaeologists have also found the first evidence of the oldest ear of popcorn, about 5,600 years old. It was discovered in the Bat cave in west-central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950.
There were also grains of popcorn, perhaps 1,000 years old, found in tombs on the east coast of Peru. The grains found were so well preserved that they would still pop even though they were that old! Some fossil evidence also suggested that corn was popped as early as 4,700 BC.
Moreover, archeologists have found traces of a 1,000-year-old popped popcorn kernel in Peruvian tombs.
Additionally, there is evidence of Aztec Indians using popcorn as decorations for clothes, ceremonial embellishments, headdresses, and necklaces. Aside from eating, they also used it as ornaments for the statues of their gods of fertility and rain.
Furthermore, French explorers discovered popcorn made by the indigenous Iroquois Native Americans in the Great Lakes region. The Iroquois people were recorded as popping corn kernels in heated pottery jars in the 1600s.
Popcorn then made its way to North America and other places in the USA as early American settlers adopted corn. Over time, the popularity of popcorn grew, spreading around the world. Kernel popping was achieved on stove tops or by hand through the 19th century.
However, in 1885, the first popcorn maker was created by Charles Cretor, a candy store owner in Chicago.
He created a steam-powered popcorn maker by redesigning a purchased peanut roaster machine. The machine could pop kernels in oil and uniformly in its own seasonings.
The first commercial popcorn machine greatly increased the opportunity to produce popcorn. The invention also increased the accessibility of popcorn to other people in America, thus, the popularity of the snack.
Now, you might wonder why people eat popcorn in movie theaters or at home during family movie nights.
At first, theater owners didn’t sell popcorn inside because they believed it would ruin the fancy or sophisticated atmosphere of the theater. They also believed it would create distractions due to the noise from the popcorn machine. They also saw it as too messy.
However, this changed when the Great Depression hit. Theater owners found that selling popcorn could help keep the businesses afloat. Popcorn was cheap at 5 to 10 cents a bag then and became one of the few accessible luxuries families could afford during financial hardship.
In addition, theater owners saw the profits from selling popcorn and bought their own popping machines. Hot popcorn was sold before people entered the theater.
As the Depression continued, theaters that sold popcorn thrived, and those that didn’t began to shut down.
Today, we can find popcorn everywhere with various flavors, and it has become one of the most enjoyed snacks by people of all ages in the world.