The History of Popcorn: from Caves to Microwaves
It’s been the staple food of cinemas for as long as there have been movies and it’s come back in a big way as a favourite snack in homes all over.
But have you ever wondered how popcorn came to be in the first place? Who discovered popcorn and how? How did it become the ultimate movie night snack? At Pop ‘n’ Sprinkle, we know and love our popcorn and when we found out just how far back it goes, we had to share. So, here are some popcorn facts you will be rattling off to your friends every time you grab a bag.
It’s older than you think
How long has popcorn been around for? When we think of popcorn through history, we think of the US movie-going populace. However, the truth is that people have been making and eating it for thousands of years before cinema was even a thing. Mexico is actually the first place in the world where corn was grown domestically, and archaeologists have found remnants of popcorn in caves that date back as far as 3600 BC! There are even funeral urns from the year 300 AD showing a Mexican maize god wearing popcorn in his headdress. Heat and a little oil or butter is what makes popcorn pop, so Native Americans had access to popcorn for so long that historians think it might be the very first discovered purpose of maize.
Native peoples like the Aztecs were eating popcorn for thousands of years by the time the settlers came, and the snack was soon picked up from them by the first colonists of the Americas. Kettle corn might even find its roots in the way that the settlers would flavour theirs with a little molasses.
Popcorn in the US, a centuries-long love affair
How popcorn is made has changed over time, and we moved from stoves to modern popcorn machines in 1855. Chicago-inventor Charles Cretors created a mobile machine fueled by a gasoline burner that allowed popcorn peddlers to roam the streets. Popcorn might have been little more than a fad had it not been for the fact that cinema started to boom at the same time.
Theatre owners originally didn’t like popcorn very much as they thought it distracted from the film, but they soon started to see the profit inspired by the vendors waiting outside and before long, cinemas all around the country had their own popcorn machines. Cheap as it was, popcorn consumption grew hugely during both the Great Depression and World War II when other snacks were scarce, expensive, or rationed.
Riding the waves
With TV, cinema numbers started to fall and popcorn’s rising star began to fall with it. That was until the microwave came along. Who invented microwave popcorn? Well, the very first patent belongs to inventor Percy Spencer, made back in 1945. However, it wasn’t until 1981 that Spencer Mills created the microwave popcorn bags we’ve all come to know and love, and we’ve been using them ever since.
As of 2017, home popcorn consumption has increased to about a million pounds of unpopped kernels a year in the US alone and the snack has spread far and wide across the world. In the UK, we produce and eat about 12,000-15,000 metric tonnes of the stuff a year!
Our love of popcorn looks like it’s only set to keep growing, too.