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Popcorn

Popcorn or popping corn (Zea mays everta, "corn turned inside out") is a type of corn which explodes from the kernel and puffs up when heated. Corn popping was originally discovered by American Indians, but became popular as a snack food during the United States Great Depression, especially in movie theaters.

Corn is able to pop because, unlike other grains, its kernels have a hard moisture-sealed hull and a dense starchy filling.  This allows pressure to build inside the kernel until an explosive "pop" results.  Some strains of corn are now cultivated specifically as popping corns.

There are many techniques for popping corn. Commercial large-scale popcorn machines were invented by Charles Cretors in the late 19th century.  Many types of small-scale home methods for popping corn also exist, with the most popular in the USA being prepackaged microwavable popcorn.

History
Popcorn was first discovered thousands of years ago by the American Indians.  The English who came to America in the 16th and 17th centuries learned about popcorn from the American Indians.

During the Great Depression, popcorn was comparatively cheap at 5-10 cents a bag and became popular.  Thus, while other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived and became a source of income for some struggling farmers.  During World War II, sugar rations diminished candy production, causing Americans to eat three times more popcorn than they had before.

At least six localities (all in the Midwestern United States) claim to be the "Popcorn Capital of the World": Valparaiso, Indiana; Van Buren, Indiana; Marion, Ohio; Ridgway, Illinois; Schaller, Iowa; and North Loup, Nebraska.  According to the USDA, most of the maize used for popcorn production is specifically planted for this purpose; most is grown in Nebraska and Indiana, with increasing area in Texas.

As the result of an elementary school project, popcorn became the official state snack food of Illinois.

How popcorn pops
Each kernel of popcorn contains a certain amount of moisture and oil.  Unlike most other grains, the outer hull of the popcorn kernel is both strong and impervious to moisture, and the starch inside consists almost entirely of a hard, dense type.

As the oil and the water are heated past the boiling point, they turn the moisture in the kernel into a superheated pressurized steam, contained within the moisture-proof hull.  Under these conditions, the starch inside the kernel gelatinizes, softening and becoming pliable.  The pressure continues to increase until the breaking point of the hull is reached: a pressure of about 135 psi and a temperature of 356-degrees F. 

The hull ruptures rapidly, causing a sudden drop in pressure inside the kernel and a corresponding rapid expansion of the steam, which expands the starch and proteins of the endosperm into airy foam. As the foam rapidly cools, the starch and protein polymers set into the familiar crispy puff.

Special varieties are grown to give improved popping yield. Some wild types will pop, but the cultivated strain is Zea mays averta, which is a special kind of flint corn.

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