We know that popcorn and its multitude of flavors and incarnations have been everyone’s dependable movie or TV buddy. But did you know that popcorn has been around time immemorial, dating back to more than 5,000 years ago? Though popcorn is popularly known as a snack, it was originally eaten for breakfast, with milk and cream, just like how we eat cereals now!
Caramel popcorn was first made in the U.S. in the 1890s when the Ruckheim brothers, who owned a popcorn shop, mixed molasses with the usual popcorn. Then called “candied popcorn and peanuts,” the caramel popcorn premiered at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago. People initially didn’t like the stickiness of its first version, pushing one of the Ruckheim brothers to tweak the recipe and come up with a lighter and not-as-sticky coating. Then came this addicting sweet, salty, and crunchy snack in one, the caramel popcorn!
Caramel Popcorn Trivia
- April 6 is National Caramel Popcorn Day. It is actually a separate commemoration from the National Popcorn day, which is on January 19th and the National Popcorn Poppin’ Month in October.
- Caramel popcorn ranked 3rd on the top flavors list of 1,000 Americans who participated in the National Today survey. Butter topped the list, followed by white cheese.
- Popcorn comes in two shapes: the butterfly and the mushroom. Butterfly shaped popcorn is preferred by movie theater sellers because it is bigger, while flavored popcorns such as caramel are made from mushroom-shaped pops, as they can hold the flavorings without crumbling.
- 352,028,160 – the number of popped kernels you will need to make a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles.
Caramel Popcorn Buying Guide
Both caramel and kettle corns are sweet variations of this all-time favorite snack but there is a notable difference on how they are made:
- Caramel popcorn: Made from regular popping corn. Once popped, it will be mixed with a hot caramel mixture that becomes this sticky sweet coating over each kernel.
- Kernel corn: Also made from regular popping corn. But these kernels are popped in an oiled large iron kettle, after which salt and sugar are tossed into the kettle.
Caramel Popcorn Production & Farming in Texas
Popcorn and all its flavors, may it be the classic flavors or new mixes, are thriving in Texas being an American snacking tradition. Aside from the commercially sold caramel popcorns, locally crafted gourmet and artisan caramel popcorn producers have some sweet competition with a lot of brands poppin’ their own take of this all-time favorite!
Preservatives, Additives, Chemicals
The popcorn itself, especially if air-popped and with no oil, is a very healthy treat. It is considered as a whole grain snack, including the following nutritional benefits: high in fiber and low in fat and sugar. But when we put the flavors into the equation, such as the caramel popcorn, that’s when the healthy formula gets to be a bit fuzzy.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup – Corn syrup may be one of the usual ingredients in making caramel popcorn. While that itself is already something to watch out for already, due to risks of weight gain or obesity and diabetes due to the high sugar content, it is even a bigger red flag when commercial producers use high fructose corn syrup, with that being a cheaper substitute to natural sweeteners.
- Soy lecithin – Lecithin is derived from many sources such as egg yolks, liver, peanuts, and most commonly in soy. It is usually used as an emulsifier, allowing oil and water to be mixed together. It also helps extend shelf life and reduce the stickiness of the food. But while it may seem harmless, the controversy comes to how the lecithin is produced. Others still deem it as artificial since it is extracted using harsh chemicals, or it is derived from genetically modified soybean plants. So make sure to look for the “organic soy lecithin” label when you buy your food.
- Artificial Butter Flavor – This may make popcorn oh so yummy, but while it is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, some studies have shown that artificial butter flavoring or diacetyl is linked to life-threatening lung disease, especially to those who are overly exposed to this compound.
Caramel popcorn is usually sold in sealed plastic food packs to preserve their freshness, especially for off the shelf items, while some producers are preserving the tradition of selling it in tin cans, making it also a great gift item during special occasions.
Enjoying Caramel Popcorn
When do we best enjoy eating caramel popcorn? Well… when do we NOT enjoy eating caramel popcorn? It can be best enjoyed while in the cinemas or back home watching movies or our favorite tv shows, during sports games live at the field or court or even while lounging at the couch, served during parties and social events as convenient and yummy finger food, something to munch on while walking around local fairs and even as something easy and tasty to grab as a late-night snack! Caramel popcorn has also evolved into a whole snack with having nuts or even fruits mixed in the process.
While caramel popcorn doesn’t really spoil, it has the tendency to lose its flavor and its crisp texture over time. Make sure to stash it in an airtight or resealable container, keep it away from heat, moisture, and humidity, and store it at room temperature. It is said to hold for about 30 to 90 days… if you can actually stop munching on these pops!
Gearing up for a movie or series marathon? Or need an easy snack for guests? Here’s a recipe to make your own homemade caramel popcorn, originally published by Texas Coop Power!
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 quarts popcorn (about 1 cup unpopped kernels)
- ounces roasted salted peanuts
- 1 cup roasted salted pecans or cashews
- 1/2 cup roasted salted pepitas
- Pop popcorn kernels and set them aside on a baking tray.
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
- Start on the caramel mixture by melting the butter in a large, deep pan. Mix in sugar, corn syrup, and salt and stir constantly until it boils.
- Boil 5 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and mix in baking soda and vanilla. Take note, the mixture will foam due to the baking soda.
- Pour the syrup over the popcorn and nuts and make sure everything is thoroughly coated.
- Bake for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from the oven then leave to cool. Serve or store in airtight containers.