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Facts about popcorn

Popcorn is very popular at the movies.
Popcorn is very popular at the movies.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Popcorn is one of the most popular snacks in the world. A favorite for parties, movies or quick meals-on-the-go, popcorn is generally regarded as being slightly healthier to eat than potato chips and is, therefore, considered to be a somewhat more acceptable snack even in the eyes of the super-health-conscious.

Popcorn is a snack food that is healthier than most.
Popcorn is a snack food that is healthier than most.
Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

It is estimated that the average American eats about 68 quarts of popcorn each year. So, as a whole, Americans consume 17.3 billion quarts of popcorn each year. Compared to most snack foods popcorn is low in calories and it is a member of the maize (corn) family which is a food that is well-regarded as being a healthy part of a meal like dinner. However, of the six types of maize/corn—including pod, sweet, flour, dent, flint, and popcorn—only popcorn pops. Popcorn is a whole grain that is made up of three components: the germ, the endosperm and the pericarp (as called the “hull.”) Each kernel has water inside of it. When the kernel is heated, the water turns to steam but because of the kernel’s hard coating the steam has difficulty escaping. The steam eventually does escape and this causes the kernel to explode, or “pop.” Popcorn needs between 13.5%-14% of moisture in order to pop and some kernels can fly up to three feet in the air when they do!

In the United States, most popcorn is grown in the Midwest states of Indiana, Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Iowa and Missouri and the peak period for its consumption is the fall (aka American football season). To honor the Midwest’s long-association with popcorn and the corn industry in general, in February of 2009 the world’s largest popcorn ball was created by volunteers in Sac City, Iowa. It weighed 5,000 lbs., stood over 8 ft. tall, and measured 28.8 ft. in circumference!

Below are some other fun facts about popcorn:

* If you made a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles you would need more than 352,028,160 popped kernels!

• The oldest ears of popcorn were found in a New Mexico cave in 1948 and 1950. Ranging in size from a penny to 2 inches, the popcorn ears were estimated to be about 4,000 years old.

• In colonial times, Americans ate popcorn for breakfast. They mixed it with milk, sugar and cream.

• Popcorn has been linked to movies ever since the first nickelodeons opened at the beginning of the 20th century. However, popcorn was usually sold outside the theater and people were discouraged from bringing it inside. It wasn’t until the Great Depression and the invention of motion pictures with sound that movie theaters began to sell popcorn inside the theater and it soon became a lucrative industry.