The History Of Popcorn
Long before movie nights and microwaves, legend has it that there was once a summer so scorching hot that it caused the corn in the field to start popping right off the stalks. While this story might not have a kernel of truth to it, we’re far from the world’s first fans of popcorn. As one of the world’s oldest snack food, popcorn has a deep history, proving that there’s more beneath the husk than meets the eye.
Discovered by two anthropologists, the oldest ears of corn were found in the Bat Cave of New Mexico. Believed to have been used for popping, the prehistoric loose kernels were dated back to 5,600 years ago. In addition to New Mexico, there were also traces of popcorn found in South America. Unearthed in burial grounds in Chile, the kernels were so well preserved they would still pop even though they were 1000 years old!
Not just for eating, popcorn was an integral part of early 16th century Aztec Indian culture. An important staple food for the Aztec people, it was also used for decoration in clothing and in ceremonial embellishments. Decorated funeral urns in Mexico from 300 A.D. depict a maize god with popped kernels adorning his headdress.
As colonists began moving to North America, they quickly adopted the popular local snack food. French explorers that came to the new world found popcorn being made by the Iroquois First Nations in the Great Lakes region. Not only was popcorn eaten as a snack, but it was also a popular breakfast food. Ahead of its time and a likely role model for today’s breakfast cereals, popcorn was often eaten with milk and sugar during the 1800s. Later that century, it would quickly evolve as a favourite treat, readily available in parks, carnivals, theatres and street vendors.
During the Great Depression, popcorn was one of the only snacks that could be afforded by all. While other businesses failed, this industry thrived. During World War II, when sugar and other supplies were rationed, its popularity grew even more. In fact, North Americans ate three times as much popcorn than usual!
However, with the invention of the television, popcorn went into a slump in the early 1950’s. Attendance at the movie theatres dropped, and so did consumption of of this once popular snack. But thankfully the industry quickly rebounded when the public began eating popcorn at home, especially when microwave versions were introduced in 1981. Clearly this snack trend continued, as today Canadians consume about 1.6 billion quarts of popcorn each year!
From headdresses to a breakfast staple, popcorn certainly has had staying power for thousands of years. Where is your favourite place to enjoy popcorn? Let us know in the comments below!