Popcorn is a special type of corn grain, generally not edible like other styles of corn like white or yellow corn on the cob. Instead of being eaten off the cob, popcorn is usually stripped from the cob and then heated in a pan until the inside literally breaks through the tough hull, creating fluffy, crunchy kernels. This type of corn is a new world food, and its seeds have been found in archaeological digs that date back several thousands of years.
Archaeologists have found these kernels in popped form that carbon dating show to be at least 1000 years old. In this respect, Native Americans were considerably lucky; they got to enjoy popcorn much sooner that did the rest of the world. The first Europeans to taste popped corn were likely the pilgrims, who were introduced to the crunchy stuff by local Native American tribes.
Today, popcorn is popular the world over, with literally hundreds of hybrids available. People are often used to eating this grain either popped in the microwave, or from air poppers. Recent studies have indicated that the powders used in microwave popcorn, may be unsafe, and trend in designing microwave styles tends now toward developing different butter flavor variants. Another way we eat and enjoy popped corn is at movie theaters. This type of corn is cooked in the much more traditional way, though Native Americans certainly didn’t have popped corn machines. The seeds are cooked in hot oil until they burst from a small pan, filling up popcorn machines.
You can certainly attempt this method at home on a smaller scale, and popped corn enthusiasts suggest it still yields the best and crunchiest kernels, provided you get the heat right. In a medium sized pot, coat the bottom with a little oil, allowing it to heat. Add about a half cup, just enough to cover the pan of kernels, and then move the pan back and forth over the heat source. Heat has to be just right and will vary from stove to stove. Too little heat results in the corn partially steaming, producing soggy kernels instead of crunchy ones. Alternately the corn may burn over high heat before it gets a chance to cook. Some people only use salt to pop their corn; this method actually will work, though oil tends to work a little better.
You should always remember when you’re cooking corn on the stove to keep a lid on your pot. If you don’t you can actually get hurt. The kernels can explode with great ferocity, quickly flying all over your kitchen and actually hitting you, causing burns. Standard method for avoiding this is to keep the kernels covered until you hear the majority of the kernels burst; then remove the kernels from heat. Wait about 20 seconds before uncovering the pot because there are usually several more kernels that will still pop.
There are two styles of popped corn, producing different shaped popped effects. Most popped corn will exhibit both styles. They will produce some popped kernels that look like butterflies, and others that are round and are sometimes called mushroom-shaped. You can buy kernels that produce only one type, but more often, you’ll have two different shapes in your popped corn.
In popcorn history, an interesting early fact is that movie theaters did not at first sell popped corn. Instead vendors outside the theater would sell it, and theater owners really resented it, because it made such a mess in the theater. Eventually, customer desire for this puffy grain won out and owners invited vendors inside to sell their wares. Finally, owners got rid of vendors and created movie concession stands so they could make the most profit on popcorn, candy, and drinks.
By itself, popped corn is low in fat and high in dietary fiber. A half a cup (about 100 grams) that is air popped and doesn’t include butter can include 15 grams of dietary fiber. Really, the main reason that popcorn can be viewed as a fatty food is because it is frequently covered in butter, oversalted, and cooked in high fat oils. If you keep it simple, and add just a little salt, you can actually consider popped corn an excellent diet food and a great way to meet your daily needs for dietary fiber.