Americans who enjoy popcorn can celebrate their favorite snack with other popcorn lovers on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. National Popcorn Day marks the annual celebration of everything made from this salty, sweet, crunchy treat.
What Is Popcorn?
Every day, people consume grains in a variety of ways in meals and snacks, including raw, baked, boiled and toasted. When early European and other explorers first traveled to this area of the world, they learned from native peoples that “maize,” a word they and other settlers eventually changed to “corn,” transformed from hard kernels into soft, white, edible puffs when exposed to high heat.Read More »
Why Is Popcorn Popular?
People needed and wanted a filling and tasty snack in their lives. By the late 1800s, a Chicago bakery and confectionery shop owner named Charles Cretors popularized popcorn by making it available to the public via mass-production processes. He invented a steam-powered machine that uniformly roasted peanuts and popped corn rapidly with hot oil.
After meeting a traveling salesman named J. M. Savage and initially giving away samples of his product with hot butter at the 1893 Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition or “World’s Fair,” popcorn took off as a favorite snack of the masses. It was an immediate, attractive engagement product because its delicious scent could reach people at a distance.
By 1900, Cretors set up the equivalent of modern food vendor snack trucks in the form of horse-drawn wagons that carried and sold popcorn on the streets. His company, C. Cretors & Company, also established popcorn as a part of everyday American life through the sale of commercial oil-based popcorn equipment.
Throughout the country, people had also experimented with combining peanuts, popcorn and sugar without mass production success until two German emigrants and confectionary vendors named Frederick and Louis Rueckheim decided to combine molasses with peanuts and popcorn. The resulting product, “Cracker Jack,” was an instant hit with the public at the same 1893 World’s Fair that Cretors attended after the brothers found a way to make the molasses less sticky. A foreman supposedly named the product after the slang term for “first rate,” which is how he described it after tasting a sample. The Rueckheim snack eventually became so popular, especially at baseball games, that two songwriters, Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, made it a singularly “American” treat in 1908 by including its name in the now-famous song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The Rueckheim brothers further popularized Cracker Jack by adding a free surprise coupon, small toy, baseball card or other trinket to every box.
Lastly, by 1938, another midwestern businessman named Glen W. Dickson realized that popcorn vendors outside of his movie theaters made a lot of money. He decided to add popcorn to the menu of concessions items sold inside his theaters after realizing that he could make more money by selling it than from ticket sales alone. He invested in popcorn machines for every theater and even purchased farms that only grew corn used in the making of popcorn. World War II then increased concession sales of popcorn because sugar used to make various types of candy, another popular theater concessions treat, became rationed with supply shortages. Eventually, mass production of popcorn spread to homes with stovetop popping advancements and the invention of the microwave.
Did You Know?
As of 2022, Americans eat am estimated total of 13 to 17 billion quarts of popcorn per year. They buy it raw as loose kernels for countertop popcorn poppers or cast iron pans or prepackaged in shakable aluminum, foil-covered pans for stovetop cooking and microwave bags. They also purchase it pre-popped in large bags, boxes and buckets and in different kinds of snacks.
They consume primarily two forms of popcorn. They enjoy a winged type known as butterfly or snowflake popcorn and a wider mushroom-shaped variety. The latter works best when combining popcorn with edible coatings.
People also use popcorn as a decoration during Christmas and winter holidays. They run string through popped kernels and hang their popcorn garlands across windows, above fireplace mantels and around Christmas trees.
Not all popcorn news is good news. Some people can’t eat popcorn at all. To their shock and horror, their bodies can’t tolerate it. Popcorn odor or chewing sets off intense trigeminal nerve facial pain that can last for minutes or hours and even make them gag or nauseated when they attempt to eat it. People with certain bowel disorders can’t eat it because the non-digestible leftover pieces of hard outer kernel hulls that stick to the puffs cause them gastrointestinal pain or inflammation. Some people also experience odor sensitivity to the scent of popped popcorn and deal with intense congestion and sinusitis. Many people who can eat popcorn can’t use traditional butter made from cow’s milk because they have a dairy-based allergy.
Traditionally, people referred to dry kernels that fail to pop as “old maids” and “spinsters.” Both terms have fallen out of favor in recent years because they perpetuate negative stereotypes about women and promote discrimination against women, especially unmarried and divorced, older women.
How to Celebrate National Popcorn Day
The history of National Popcorn Day is a confusing one. Most companies and consumers can’t decide on a historic first day that people began celebrating the consumption of popcorn. Some sources try to claim it started in the late 1980s with an official announcement linking it to celebrating the Super Bowl NFL football championship game. Other sources talk about the 1970s or earlier. At one point, companies who celebrate National Popcorn Month in October tried to claim that National Popcorn Day always fell on a date in that month. In recent years, people celebrate it slightly before or on the date of the Super Bowl. This year, the celebration arrives nearly a month before the February 13 date for that event.
No matter whether you decide to celebrate on January 19 or not, you can enjoy popcorn any time in many unique and fun ways. You can eat it with or without butter, salt, caramel, cheese or other popular coatings and seasonings, such as cinnamon and sugar, garlic powder, olive oil, shredded toasted coconut, pizza spices and nut butter. Some people coat it in melted marshmallow or mash together popcorn and marshmallow to make popcorn balls or squares.
Try these recipes to make your own popcorn treats this National Popcorn Day!