What’s a movie without a bag of popcorn? An overwhelming majority of people in the world will tell you that a movie isn’t complete without a bag of salty and buttery popcorn. But do you really know what makes popcorn so good? A lot of people will think that popcorn is just regular corn that is dried and then popped to make this tasty treat. But in fact, popcorn is a special kind of strain of corn that is cultivated especially just to make this movie house specialty. People have been eating popcorn for thousands of years, making this one of the oldest snacks on the planet.
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Order: Poales
- Family: Poaceae
- Genus: Zea
- Species: Z. mays
- Binomial name: Z. m. everta
- One cup of popcorn kernels contains approximately 1,600 pieces.
- “Old maids” or “spinsters” are terms that are given to popcorn kernels that don’t pop.
- Popcorn kernels when popped can fly as high as ten feet!
- Popcorn strains have been the same for thousands of years! All popcorn kernels are guaranteed to be non-GMO.
Popcorn Buying Guide
There are many different kinds of popcorn out there (and we’re not talking about microwavable popcorn bags!) with each one bringing their own special twist to the table. Not that microwavable popcorn is bad, I mean they do well in a pinch. But for a gourmet real food experience, it’s best to pop your own. Here are the types of popcorn kernels that you can find in groceries, supermarkets, specialty stores, and farmers’ markets:
Popcorn by Finished Product:
- Butterfly / Snowflake Popcorn
- This is the most common type of popcorn, with light and crispy “wings” that protrude in every direction.
- Light and fluffy, this is best consumed immediately after popping so that the “wings” will still be crispy and crunchy.
- If you’re looking for a movie theater experience, this is the kernel to go for as this is the variety that is most often used in movie houses.
- Mushroom Popcorn
- No, it’s not made out of mushrooms, but the shape resembles a mushroom cap or a large ball shape. Think of a corn kernel that’s puffed up but failed to explode.
- This is larger, denser, and much less fragile than your regular butterfly popcorn.
- If you want to make caramel popcorn or any popcorn with thick sauces or coatings, this is the kernel for you.
- Mostly used in kettle corn applications due to their shape, weight, and less violent “popping” action than their butterfly counterpart.
Popcorn by Kernel Color:
- Yellow Corn – This is the most common popcorn kernel in the market. This has a slightly nutty flavor and goes well with just butter and salt.
- White Corn – This has a mild and neutral taste, making it best for powered seasonings like cheese, BBQ, sour cream, and the like.
- Red Corn – No, this does not make red popcorn. When popped, the resulting popcorn will be white with red flecks from the skin. This is much lighter and tender in texture than yellow corn while offering a nutty flavor at the same time.
- Blue / Purple Corn – Much like red corn kernels, this color pops white and has a unique and nutty flavor to it. Best with just a bit of sea salt so you can enjoy its unique nutty taste.
No matter which popcorn variety you choose, don’t pay a premium for those touting “non-GMO” labels. The reason for this is that all popcorn varieties are non-GMO. They’re pretty pest resistant and they don’t need any modifications to make plumper and sweeter kernels.
The label you should be looking for when purchasing popcorn is the “Organic” label, as popcorn (along with most corn products) is one of the most pesticide-laden products on the market today. See more in the pesticide section below.
Popcorn Production & Farming in Texas
Large commercial corn-growing operations in Texas are usually focused on growing traditional corn crops. On the other hand, growing corn for popcorn has been an attractive alternative for smaller farmers and homesteads. The reason for this is that popcorn can be stored for extended periods and a lot of these small local growers will venture out to sell value-added products like gourmet popcorn and kettle corn, which gives them a much higher profit than growing conventional corn and competing with mega-growers.
You can find locally grown popcorn kernels in your local farmers’ markets, gristmills, and specialty stores. And if you’re not in the mood to pop your own kernels there are plenty of local gourmet popcorn producers that use locally grown kernels and flavors for their products.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
While being non-GMO, it’s still very important to choose popcorn kernels that are certified to be organic (or at the very least, grown by small farms that are committed to sustainable farming). The FDA has ranked popcorn as one of the most products contaminated with pesticides. This comes with large-scale farming and indiscriminate use of pesticides that contaminate whole fields of produce even if it’s not needed. The FDA has identified over one hundred different chemicals, insecticides, herbicides, fumigants, and other fertilizers that are used in non-organic popcorn growing.
Popcorn kernels are usually sold either in burlap bags or in plastic pouches. Microwavable popcorn, on the other hand, is triple packed, first in a microwavable paper bag, then a plastic pouch before being boxed again.
The best way to enjoy popcorn is just to smother it with butter and sprinkle it with a little bit of salt. Basic, tasty, and you get to enjoy the taste of the corn with a little touch of richness from the butter and some extra oomph from the salt. But in the end, it just boils down to preference. You can have your popcorn with a variety of toppings, flavors, seasonings, and even sweet and savory coatings. The possibilities are endless when it comes to popcorn.
Popcorn kernels are relatively easy to store. Just make sure to use an airtight container to avoid moisture loss and they should be good for up to a year or two. Store the container away from light and in a cool place. Some people will say that it’s best to store them in the fridge, but that will introduce the possibility of the fridge sucking out the moisture from the kernels if the container isn’t sealed properly. Remember, popcorn kernels are not totally dry, they have a required moisture level in them that makes them “pop” when heated.
How to Pop your own popcorn:
Forget microwave popcorn. Despite what people say, it’s very simple to pop your own corn and it’s infinitely cheaper as well. And did I say it was much tastier?
Oil for popping, 2 tablespoons (any oil will do, the oil imparts a bit of flavor to the popcorn so if you have a preference, go for it.)
Popcorn Kernels, ½ cup
Heavy-bottomed saucepan with a cover or Dutch oven
Heat up your cooking vessel of choice and put in the oil and two or three kernels of corn, cover.
After a few minutes, you should hear the corn pop, this means that the pan or Dutch oven is hot enough.
Turn off the heat, add the rest of the corn kernels, cover and give it a little shake to mix them evenly. After about a minute, turn the heat back up to medium.
Occasionally shake the pan to prevent the corn from burning.
Once the popping slows down to about one every few seconds, the popcorn should be done.
Transfer to a bowl and add your seasoning of choice! Enjoy while warm.