How does popcorn pop?

Did you know that the average American eat 68 quarts of popcorn a year! Not only is popcorn a delicious snack, but is also nutritious since it is considered a whole grain. Of course if you slather butter on it, the nutritional benefits may be negated.

popcorn-1178242_960_720So how does popcorn pop? Some Native American tribes believed that there were spirits that lived inside each kernel of popcorn. The spirits are content until someone heats the kernel. This made them angry, in fact they got madder the hotter the kernel was heated. The kernels begin to shake with anger when the heat was to much to bear. At that point, the spirits would burst out of their homes and into the air as puffs of steam.

The scientific explanation is less creepy! Each hard kernel of popcorn has a small amount of water stored inside a sphere of soft starch. As the kernels are heated, the water expands as it turns to vapor. The pressure eventually breaks the hard outer surface as the starch inflates and basically turns the kernel inside out. For this to work well the kernel has to be relatively small, and the hard outer shell of the kernel must be quite strong to resist the increasing pressure. This explains why popcorn has kernels that are smaller than most field corn.

Popcorn is grown here in Kentucky. In fact, you can grow it in your own garden! Many garden catalogs offer different varieties of  popcorn. Varieties offer a broad range in kernel color, including blue and red. However, the popped corn will be white or pale yellow. For more information on growing popcorn, check out www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/2000/7-21-2000/popcorn.html.

Submitted by Amanda Sears, Agent for Horticulture, Madison Co. Cooperative Extension Service