Marty Martindale

Did you know that unpopped kernels in the bottom of your popcorn bag, box or bowl are called “old maids?” Popcorn is  another fun, audience food, another of those “bet-you-can’t-eat-just-one-mouthful” treats. Carelessly, we think of it as “junk food,” however, popcorn is a thorough-going vegetable which supplies your body with more iron than eggs, peanuts, spinach or roast beef. It contains more phosphorous and fiber than potato chips, ice cream cones or pretzels!

Marketers have fun with this popped stuff, too. Grown in four possible natural colors, white, yellow, red and blue, popcorn can be plain or spicy, oil-popped or air-popped. Buy it sweet, salty, buttered, caramel coated or bright orange with nacho cheese flavor. Pale white (calorie laden) cheddar seems to be riding a flavor crest right now, yet mail order companies tempt with flavors from black cherry to coconut macaroon or dark licorice. Some order pina-colada or bubble-gum-flavored popcorn. There’s also seasonal flavors like cranberry.

The culture of popcorn is broad. Until the 1950s, most people ate their popcorn at the movies; now seventy percent of popcorn is popped at home. The Popcorn Institute reports we eat 56 quarts of popcorn each year, an increase of 50 percent, according to the Snack Food Association. Sales now exceed $2 billion a year. Americans today consume nearly 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn, that’s 59 quarts of per man, woman and child. Five types of corn are grown today, the sweet, dent, flint, pod and popping corn.

Few foods are as old as corn. As far back as 80,000 years, fossil corn pollen was discovered 200 feet below Mexico City, and scholars believe the first use for corn was popped corn. Besides eating it, they used the white “beads” to adorn their bodies. Native Americans held ears of corn over a fire until kernels popped, then they ate it off the cob. Later, they removed kernels, threw them into the fire, then scramble for them as they popped free. This led to heating kernels and sand in clay pots and separating the two. Shallow clay vessels, as broad as eight-feet, have been found in Mexico and South America from as far back as 500 A.D. People from the Pre-Incan society used similar pots as early as 300 A.D. Popping corn has tremendous keeping qualities. Archeologists tell of a donkey which came upon some thousand-year-old kernels and ate at them. Also, scientists discovered corn this old will still pop.

The popping of corn has probably fascinated every civilization, as if it were some form of magic. What makes it seem a mystery is water inside the corn kernel heats hot enough to become steam, and it causes pressure which overcomes the strength of the protein and starch coating, causing the kernel to explode. Each took one of two shapes: snowflake, which is big and shaped like a cloud; and mushroom which pops into a small ball.

It’s a great dietary bargain states the Popcorn Board in Chicago. “Because popcorn is a high-carbohydrate, low sugar food, it is ideal for snacking. When Hunger strikes between meals, popcorn satisfies the appetite without spoiling it.”

Twentieth-century corn poppers have changed, too. Early, we shuffled long-handled boxes across stove burners. The first electric popping kettle needed us to turn a handle in a circular fashion until popping ceased. Then we could buy fat-free, air popping machines. At last, we had microwave popcorn which tasted much better, and all we had to do was listen. During this era, Orville Redenbacher, sometimes called the Popcorn King, was born on a farm in Brazil, Indiana, our largest popcorn-producing state. After becoming an agronomist, and a very shy one, he became a life-long popcorn promoter. He died in 1995 at the age of 88, and he’s supposed to have eaten popcorn every day of his life.


Sugar-free, fat-free and low in calories, popcorn receives the endorsement of the  National Cancer Institute, the American Dental Association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association. Use this calorie guide for one cup of popped corn:

Air-popped, 30 calories
Oil-popped, 55 calories
Buttered, 90 to 120 calories
Caramel-coated, 151 calories

It’s a great dietary bargain states the Popcorn Board in Chicago. “Because popcorn is a high-carbohydrate, low sugar food, it is ideal for snacking.  When Hunger strikes between meals, popcorn satisfies the appetite without spoiling it.”


Use popcorn wherever you’d use croutons; this includes tossing with salads and floating on soups.
Serve popcorn in a bowl with milk as any puffed cereal. Some may want to add a bit of sugar.
Create your own trail mix using dried fruits, nuts and popped corn
Right after popping, go over it quickly with some lite butter-flavored cooking spray, then toss with your favorite spice, seasoning mix or finely-chopped herbs.
Stir ½ cup each of sugar, light corn syrup or honey and chunky peanut butter over low heat until melted.
Drizzle over freshly popped corn.



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