When I munch on popcorn, I give very little thought to how long it’s been around. So when I came across some information that revealed it’s been around for thousands of years, I was shocked! Did you know that remains of corn kernels, dating from nearly 7,000 years ago, have been found in Peru? There’s even evidence that they popped the kernels! Not only that, but corn is a very ancient grain. Archaeologists once found fossilized corn pollen from 80,000 years ago! That’s a long time. Here’s more information about this ancient grain:

Domesticating Corn

The Mexicans were amongst the first to domesticate corn, and they did so nearly 10,000 years ago. They experimented with several varieties and it eventually became an essential part of their diet. It eventually moved to parts of South America and then up into the Americas. Evidence of popcorn, for example, has been found in New Mexico dating from around 4600 B.C. The first settlers, however, didn’t have exposure to it until they encountered the Iroquois people in the Great Lakes region, thousands of years later.

Discovery in Ancient Peru

As far as scientists can tell, the Peruvians are the first to have actually popped the kernels. Prior to this discovery, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences back in 2012, that popcorn wasn’t discovered until much later. Though there are hundreds of varieties of maize, or corn, it’s the Zea mays that can be popped. It’s amazing that the ancient Peruvians knew that popping corn created this amazing snack.

First Thanksgiving Myth

It wasn’t until around the 16th century that settlers in North America were introduced to popcorn by the natives. Legend has it that popcorn made its appearance on the American table during the first Thanksgiving and was introduced to the settlers by Squanto himself. There’s debate as to whether or not this was really true because the variety of corn that the settlers grew doesn’t result in fluffing the kernels when popped. In fact, it doesn’t work at all.

Iroquois Evidence

The French, however, did witness members of the Iroquois nation popping corn kernels in clay pots in the 1800’s. Even though little is known about how long they had been eating corn this way, they did spread this delicious snack throughout the Great Lakes. By the mid 1800’s, Americans embraced it. Eating popcorn had officially become a national pastime. It eventually grew in popularity throughout the world.

Depression Era Snack

It wasn’t until the Great Depression, however, that popcorn really became popular. In fact, this is the first time popcorn appeared at movie theaters. It’s an inexpensive snack, which meant that even when money was tight, people could still enjoy something so simple and delicious. Now, I find that no movie is complete without a tub of popcorn by my side!

Gwen Watson on Mar 13, 2015