January 19: What’s Popping on National Popcorn Day

Today’s the day! And if you’re wondering what today is, it’s popping day!

What’s popping?

There are six kinds of corn but only one of them can pop. Popcorn (the one that pops) is a maize plant with the scientific name Zea mays everta. Most of the popcorn in the world is grown in Nebraska and Indiana but farmers in Illinois and other Midwestern states also grow popcorn.

Popcorn plants can grow to over six feet tall and they also thrive in sandy soil which is not ideal for most other crops.

Americans eat more popcorn than anyone else in the world. Even our microwaves have special popcorn buttons.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popcorn is a favorite snack for many families and comes in a few different colors including red, blue, yellow, and white. It is easy to eat while playing cards or board games. Most people know popcorn is a favorite snack at sporting events and movies.

What makes popcorn a great snack?

It is a whole grain which means it contains the germ, endosperm, and pericarp (also known as the hull) and it is low in calories. Air-popped popcorn has 30 calories per cup. Oil-popped popcorn has 35 calories per cup. It also can be flavored with different herbs and spices to fit your taste or mixed with dried fruit, nuts, and cereal for a quick trail mix.

To keep popcorn as a healthy snack, be careful when adding salt and butter as they will add sodium, fat, and calories.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes popcorn pop?

To look at what makes popcorn pop, we first have to understand what a popcorn kernel is made of. A popcorn kernel is composed of three main parts:

  • Germ
  • Endosperm
  • Hull/pericarp

The germ is found inside the shell and is considered the living part of the plant. The endosperm (also inside the shell) is a starchy area that provides nutrients for the germ. Finally, the hull is made of cellulose an indigestible sugar, and provides the hard outer shell. In popcorn, the hull is harder and thicker than in other types of corn.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why does popcorn pop?

A popcorn kernel must be able to withstand enough internal pressure for it to explode into our beloved snack. Popcorn’s thick hull is what allows this to happen. When you heat a kernel in the microwave, the microwaves transfer energy in the form of heat to the water inside the kernel.

The water absorbs the heat and it turns to steam and expands thus increasing the pressure inside the kernel. The pressure builds up inside of it to the tune of about 135 pounds per square inch.

This means that one little kernel explodes after resisting over 4 times the pressure inside car tires! When the pressure builds to an amount the hull can no longer contain, it explodes open resulting in a piece of popcorn.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How high can popcorn pop?

Popping an afternoon snack of popcorn in the microwave generally isn’t a messy affair considering most popcorn cooking is contained in a bag. But if it wasn’t, you might have to watch out for flying kernels since popcorn can pop as high as 3 feet while it transforms from kernel to puff.

However, the tiny grains don’t just fly straight skyward as they expand; high-speed recordings of popcorn, as it cooks, show that the kernels actually flip like a high-flying gymnast thanks to starches that push off a cooking surface and propel the corn into the air. 

The way popcorn transforms from a hard nugget to a soft and springy morsel can seem like magic except scientists say it’s really just a trick caused by heat and pressure. As mentioned above each kernel has three parts: the germ (seed) found deep within the shell, the endosperm (a starch section used to nourish the germ if planted), and the pericarp (aka the hard exterior).

Moisture and starch are also packed into each tiny kernel; when heated, that microscopic amount of water creates pressurized steam. By the time a popcorn kernel reaches 350 degrees, the pressure is too much to contain and the pericarp explodes causing the starchy endosperm to expand outward. When the process is finished, the resulting popcorn has puffed up to 40 times its original size.

While the popcorn industry strives to get 98 percent popability from each bag of kernels, there’s likely still going to be duds at the bottom of the microwave bag. In those cases, it’s likely the pericarp was cracked or the kernel didn’t have enough internal moisture, both of which prevent any pressure buildup—which means that no amount of extra microwaving will give you a few more bites.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popcorn pops into two distinct shapes

When popcorn is all lumped together in a bowl, it just looks like… popcorn. But an up-close inspection shows that kernels pop into one of two shapes transforming into butterflies and snowflakes (winged, multifaceted shapes) or mushrooms (rounded puffs).

Butterflies occur when the popped kernel turns inside out while mushrooms are created when the kernel’s endosperm expands instead of flipping. Generally, mushrooms are sturdier and can withstand the additional cooking process to become caramel or kettle corn.

Whether your bowl of popcorn gets more mushrooms or butterflies mostly depends on factors uncontrollable from your kitchen like the popcorn plant’s genetics or how much water the plant received while it was growing in the field.

Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun facts about popcorn

  • According to the USDA, Nebraska and Indiana grow most of the popcorn
  • Nebraska produces an estimated 250 million pounds of popcorn per year—more than any other state
  • Americans eat around 17 billion quarts of popcorn every year; this amount would fill the Empire State Building 18 times
  • Popcorn can pop up to three feet in the air
  • If you made a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles, you would need more than 352,028,160 popped kernels
  • General Mills patented the first modern microwave popcorn bag in 1981
Yoder Popcorn, Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popcorn is not just for eating

Check out the following ideas for other ways to use popcorn:

  • Stringing popcorn: These can be hung outside for birds to eat or hung on your Christmas tree
  • Popcorn air hockey: Use a straw to blow the kernels back and forth or your hands as paddles to volley the kernel back and forth 20 times without letting it fall
  • Popcorn relay race: In teams, use spoons to transport popcorn back and forth
  • Popcorn basketball: Flick a piece of popcorn into the basket (muffin tins, small cups or your own mouth)

By the way, I have another post on National Popcorn Day: January 19: However You like Popcorn Enjoy It TODAY on National Popcorn Day

Related popcorn days

  • National Caramel Popcorn Day (April 6)

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever pondered the miracle of popcorn? It starts out as a tiny, little, compact kernel with magic trapped inside that when agitated, bursts to create something marvelously desirable. It’s sort of like those tiny, little thoughts trapped inside an author’s head that―in an excited explosion of words―suddenly become a captivating fairy tale!

―Richelle E. Goodrich

January 19: However You like Popcorn Enjoy It TODAY on National Popcorn Day

This annual celebration recognizes a treat that satisfies munchies, day or night

On January 19th National Popcorn Day pops onto the scene with a crunch we all love to enjoy! This time-honored snack can be sweet or savory, caramelized, buttered or plain, molded into a candied ball, or tossed with nuts and chocolate. However you like it, enjoy it on National Popcorn Day, January 19th.

Buttered, salted, kettled, and drizzled with caramel, popcorn is one of those snacks perfect anytime, anywhere. It’s great on the go, in the theater, or your living room! Just be prepared to dig some of it out of your teeth.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know that the corn we eat and the corn we pop are two different varieties of maize? The corn you’d find on your dinner table is most likely unable to pop at all. Only one variety of corn can become popcorn: Zea mays everta. This particular corn variety has small ears and the kernels burst when exposed to dry heat. 

In 1948, small heads of Zea mays everta were discovered by Herbert Dick and Earle Smith in the Bat Cave of west-central New Mexico. Ranging from smaller than a penny to about two inches, the oldest Bat Cave ears were about 4,000 years old. Several individually popped kernels were also discovered which have since been carbon-dated and shown to be approximately 5,600 years old. There’s also evidence of early use of popcorn in Peru, Mexico, and Guatemala as well as other places in Central and South America. 

Aztecs used popcorn to decorate their clothes, create ceremonial embellishments, and also for nourishment. Native Americans have also been found to consume and utilize popcorn in their day-to-day lives. In a cave in Utah thought to be inhabited by Pueblo Native Americans, popcorn has been found that dates back to over 1,000 years ago. French explorers who traveled to the new world discovered the Iroquois Natives in the Great Lakes region making popcorn. As colonists moved around North America and as the US came to be many people adopted popcorn as a popular and healthy snack.

The word corn in Old English meant grain or, more specifically, the most prominent grain grown in a region. When Native Americans introduce their most common grain, maize, to early Europeans, they aptly applied the word corn.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As early as the 16th century, the Aztecs used popcorn in headdresses worn during ceremonies honoring Tlaloc, their god of maize and fertility. Early Spanish explorers were fascinated by the corn that burst into what looked like a white flower.

Popcorn started becoming popular in the United States in the middle 1800s. It wasn’t until Charles Cretors, a candy-store owner, developed a machine for popping corn with steam that the tasty treat became more abundantly poppable. By 1900 he had horse-drawn popcorn wagons going through the streets of Chicago.

>> Read Next: Celebrating all things Pistachio on National Pistachio Day

At about the same time, Louise Ruckheim added peanuts and molasses to popcorn to bring Cracker Jack to the world. Then in 1908, the national anthem of baseball was born. Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer wrote Take Me out to the Ballgame. From that point onward, popcorn, specifically Cracker Jack, became forever married to the game.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the movies

Another romance connected to popcorn may have had a slow start but eventually took off. Today, who can imagine going to the movies without getting a box of buttered popcorn? While popcorn was an economical choice for snack food the expense of installing a machine and adequately venting the building didn’t seem worth the effort. If it weren’t for Glen W. Dickson, we would be purchasing our popcorn from a vendor on the street before taking in the show. Dickson put in the effort and expense of placing machines inside his theaters. After realizing how quickly he recouped his costs other theater owners followed suit.

The microwave oven spurred the next big advancement for popcorn. With the invention of the microwave, a whole new market opened for snack food. Magnetrons, a technology produced by Raytheon Manufacturing Corporation for the military during World War II were later used to develop microwave ovens. Percy Spencer was the man who made it happen. He used popcorn in his initial experiments during the microwave’s development. 

Today, Americans consume 17 billion quarts of popcorn a year, more than any other country in the world. A majority of the popcorn produced in the world is grown in the United States. Nebraska leads the Corn Belt in popcorn production.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popcorn by the numbers

  • 17 billion quarts: Amount of popcorn consumed by Americans annually
  • 70:  Percentage of popcorn eaten at home
  • 90: Percentage of unpopped popcorn sales
  • 13.5: Percentage of moisture content in popcorn
  • 31: Calories in a cup of popcorn
  • 5,000: Years popcorn has been in existence
  • 1885: First commercial popcorn machine was invented by Charles Cretors
  • 1981: Making popcorn even quicker and easier to eat, the General Mills patent for microwave popcorn bags is approved
  • 250 million: Pounds of popcorn produced in Nebraska every year (also known as the Cornhusker State, although it’s third in overall corn production)
  • 3: Feet that a single popped corn can fly when popping
  • 400°F: Ideal temperature for popping popcorn
Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to celebrate National Popcorn Day

Celebrating National Popcorn Day is as simple and delicious as it comes! You can start by enjoying a bag of popcorn with your favorite toppings. Pop your favorite popcorn and share a bowl with a friend.

>> Read Next: Light Your Fires on National Chili Day

Ways to enjoy popcorn: You can have it with a classic mix of butter and salt or get creative and add your favorite spices and herbs to it! There isn’t anything that doesn’t go wonderfully with it. For a light heart-healthy addition you can skip the butter and shake it down with herbs like rosemary and thyme or spice it up with cayenne. Or you can forgo the healthy options and bury it under a delicious coating of caramel and bacon and enjoy the decadence.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go global with popcorn: First made readily available in America in the early 1800s, this delightful treat has grown in popularity so that it is now a delicacy found the world over. And different places seem to enjoy their popcorn in different ways:

  • Japan: In addition to the standard ways, they appreciate flavors such as honey, milk tea, and curry
  • Europe: Enjoyed here as a sugary treat, popcorn is often sold in bags at the cinema rather than freshly popped
  • Nigeria: Best enjoyed by popping it in the microwave, a preferred flavor of popcorn here is fruit chutney
  • India: In addition to the standard butter and salt popcorn, it can be found in unique flavors such as miso soup, Thai red coconut, and anchovy garlic

Crafting with popcorn: You can also celebrate popcorn by doing crafts with it. Popcorn strings are a wonderful decoration use them to make garlands or even glue them to construction paper for a collage. String or glue popcorn onto a metal or styrofoam to make a festive popcorn wreath to welcome friends into your National Popcorn Day party. And don’t forget the paint and glitter to glitz it up even more. Popcorn can even be used as a filling for glass Christmas ornaments to make cute decorations that give a little nod to the day.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan a movie marathon: Three weeks into January? Chances are you just want to hide and eat comfort food—but, your resolutions. There’s a win-win! Tee up your favorite Star Wars Trilogy and pop a big bowl of popcorn. You can enjoy the wisdom of Yoda and keep to your diet. (A little olive oil and salt with the carby goodness of the popcorn may just hit the spot!)

Most of the popcorn we consume is either a Butterfly (also known as snowflake) or Mushroom popcorn. Butterfly popcorn produces a fluffy, winged kernel while Mushroom popcorn produces a denser more compact kernel. While both are delicious for snacking, Mushroom popcorn holds up better to caramel, cheese, and other coatings.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yoder Popcorn

On our first visit to Amish Country in northwestern Indiana, we discovered Yoder Popcorn near Shipshewana. It has been a mandatory stop on each return visit.

In 1936, Rufus Yoder started growing popcorn on his family farm. In the Amish custom, he shared his excess crop with his neighbors and friends. They told their friends and neighbors about the excellent quality of Yoder Popcorn and soon a business was born.

After Rufus retired, his children Larry and Pauline continued to market Yoder Popcorn.

Yoder Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1999, Yoder Popcorn was purchased by Rufus’ great niece, Sharon, along with her husband Richard and their youngest son, Russell, and his wife Allyse. Besides operating the Popcorn Shoppe, they farm 1,700 acres which include the acreage around the Shoppe.

>> Read Next: January 16: National Day Calendar + RVing with Rex 4th Birthday

A large variety of popcorn and related products are available at their store and on-line purchase:

  • Tiny Tender White: Very small kernel with a mild corn taste; enjoy crispy and nearly hulless popcorn
  • Baby Blue Popcorn: Tiny kernel that pops white with a dark center; sweet and crunchy with very little hull
  • Sunburst Popcorn: Large kernel with a red stripe (being that it is yellow popcorn, it will have that corn taste but with less hull than the Premium Yellow)
  • Lady Finger Microwave Popcorn: Tiniest kernel, completely hulless with a strong corn taste
  • Tiny Tender Yellow Microwave Popcorn: The ultimate in tenderness and is virtually hull-less (yellow popcorn usually pops a little bigger than white popcorn)
  • Mirowave Sample Pack: 3.5 oz. butter-flavored pouch of each of the following: 1-Yoder Premium Yellow, 1-Yoder Premium Yellow Extra Butter, 1-Yoder Premium White, 1-Yoder Yellow Tiny Tender, and 1-Yoder Premium Red
  • Gift Baskets: Price range from $6 to $62

Related popcorn days

National Caramel Popcorn Day (April 6)

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever pondered the miracle of popcorn? It starts out as a tiny, little, compact kernel with magic trapped inside that when agitated, bursts to create something marvelously desirable. It’s sort of like those tiny, little thoughts trapped inside an author’s head that―in an excited explosion of words―suddenly become a captivating fairy tale!

―Richelle E. Goodrich