Popcorn or popping corn is a special type of corn grain that explodes from the kernel and puffs up when heated. Popcorn was originally discovered by Native Americans and have since become a popular snack food.
Popcorn is usually served salted or sweetened. Air popped popcorn is high in fiber, low in calories, fat, sugar and sodium.
A popped kernel of corn is known as a "flake". Two shapes of flakes are commercially important. "Butterfly" flakes are irregular in shape and have a number of protruding "wings". "Mushroom" flakes are largely ball-shaped, with few wings. Butterfly flakes are regarded as having better mouthfeel, with greater tenderness and less noticeable hulls. Mushroom flakes are less fragile than butterfly flakes and are therefore often used for packaged popcorn or confectionery, such as caramel corn.
Selecting and Buying
Preparation and Use
Popcorn is usually served salted or sweetened. In North America, it is traditionally served salted, although sweetened versions, such as caramel corn and kettle corn, are also commonly available. In the United Kingdom, ready-made popcorn is available either salted or simply sweetened with sugar, both varieties being equally popular. Popcorn is a popular snack at sporting events and in cinemas, where it has been served since 1912.
Although small quantities can be popped in a stovetop kettle in a home kitchen, commercial sale of freshly popped popcorn employs specially designed popcorn machines, which were invented in Chicago, Illinois by Charles Cretors in 1885.
Individual consumers can also buy and use specialized popping appliances that typically generate no more than a gallon of popped corn per batch. Some of these appliances also accept a small volume of oil or melted butter to assist thermal transfer from a stationary heating element, but others are "air poppers" which rapidly circulate heated air up through the interior, keeping the unpopped kernels in motion to avoid burning and blowing the popped kernels out through the chute.
However, the great majority of popcorn sold for home consumption is now packaged for use in a microwave oven.
A very different method of popcorn-making can still be seen on the streets of some Chinese cities today. The corn is poured into a large cast-iron canister- sometimes called a 'popcorn hammer'- that is then sealed with a heavy lid and slowly turned over a curbside fire in rotisserie fashion. When a pressure gauge on the canister reaches a certain level, it is removed from the fire, a large canvas sack is put over the lid, and the seal is released. With a huge boom, all of the popcorn explodes at once and is poured into the sack.
Conserving and Storing
Airtight containers -- plastic or glass -- are your best bet to avoid moisture loss, especially when stored in a cool place like a cupboard. Avoid the refrigerator. Some say the cold storage makes the popcorn taste better, but many refrigerators contain little moisture and can dry out kernels.