Fun Popcorn Facts

20 Aug

Almost everyone loves popcorn. What’s not to like about an inexpensive whole grain that can be combined with virtually any flavoring to create a delicious, healthy treat?

Popcorn is almost as American as apple pie. Popcorn originated in North America, hit the big time in the late 19th century, and exploded in popularity with the advent of the microwave oven in the mid-1970s. Popcorn was no longer just a treat at the movies. Suddenly popcorn was in every living room, office break room and school. Popcorn gifts, popcorn fundraisers, you name it, the American public had become totally enamored with popcorn.

As the number one popcorn consuming nation, the U.S. consumes more than 16 billion quarts of (popped) popcorn annually. That means every American consumes close to 52 quarts of popcorn a year.

Popcorn Facts

  • The corn that popcorn comes from is a member of the grass family, and is scientifically known as Zea mays everta.
  • There are six major types of corn—pod, sweet, flour, dent, flint and popcorn—but only popcorn pops completely when heated.
  • The moisture content of popcorn is ideally between 13% and 14.5%. Popcorn will not pop properly with much higher or lower moisture levels.
  • The two main types of popcorn relate to the typical shapes when it’s popped: snowflake and mushroom. Snowflake popcorn is commonly found in movie theaters and stadiums because it pops up bigger. Mushroom popcorn, on the other hand, is used for popcorn confections and popcorn gifts because it is stronger and won’t crumble as easily.

How Popcorn Pops

Popcorn has a thicker hull than most other types of corn kernels. The thick hull means pressure from the internal water will build when heated and the kernel will eventually burst open. The inside starch becomes gelatinous during the heating process, and when the hull pops, the gelatinized starch is forced. The starch almost instantly cools into the familiar popcorn shape we all know and love.

Popcorn Production Statistics

Popcorn is grown on almost 1,000 farms on more than 201,000 acres in 29 states (2007 data).  The biggest popcorn producing states today are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio.

Popcorn production in the U.S. has almost tripled over the last four decades. According to the Popcorn Board, the U.S. produced around 350,000,000 pounds of popcorn in 1970, and broke the billion pound barrier for the first time in 2013.

Of note, the vast majority of U.S. popcorn production is contracted in advance with processors.  Given these contractual arrangements and generally thin markets, popcorn is usually grown under irrigation. According to IbisWorld market research, the U.S. popcorn industry brought in more than a billion dollars in revenue in 2013.

Well over three-quarters of U.S. popcorn production is consumed domestically.  Although it’s difficult to measure exactly, most sources agree that away-from-home popcorn consumption represents less than one-third of overall popcorn consumption.

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