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Popcorn: It's A More Fantastic Treat Than You Know

Updated on February 28, 2012

The smell is Irresistible!

It's A Very Special Treat

Almost everyone likes popcorn and yet most people have no idea they're eating one of the most nutritious foods out there. When it comes to healthy snacks, whether you politely eat it one kernel at a time, or you devour it buy the handful and stuff it in your mouth like I've been known to do, plain popcorn is one highly nutritious snack that young and old can eat. Quite often popcorn gets a bad rap, mostly because of what us humans do to it. It doesn't really become a questionable food until us humans begin tinkering with it and adding sugar, carmel, cheese, chocolate and various other flavors. Just consider the following facts for a second:

  1. It's a very low cal snack—between 25 (hot air) and 55 calories (oil-popped) per unbuttered cup.
  2. One cup of hot air popped corn provides virtually 0% fat. It's the oil that adds the fat.
  3. For dieters, 3 cups of popcorn equal one serving from the grain or bread group.
  4. Popcorn is a natural whole grain food that contains 40 or more nutrients and is much better for you than the large majority of snacks out there.
  5. Popcorn is loaded with fiber!
  6. Popcorn has more iron than eggs, peanuts, spinach, or roast beef!
  7. The germ in the popcorn kernel contains all of the B complex vitamins, plus vitamin E, Riboflavin and Thiamine.
  8. Popcorn is rich in iron and phosphorus and has more protein than any cereal grains out there
  9. Popcorn is listed 3rd out of a list of 11 Things That Don't Cause Cancer.
  10. Popcorn has antioxidants (known as polyphenois), that protect our body cells and tissues from potential damage that can lead to disease. In research by a University of Scranton professor, Dr. Joe Vinson discovered that popcorn contains more of these antioxidants than any other snack food including the polyphenols that are commonly found in foods such as vegetables, berries, fruits, nuts, olives, grapes, and even tea leaves. The fact is, processed and refined grains don't even compare to popcorn!

Some Interesting Trivia

Popcorn has been around for thousands of years and is believed to have come from Mexico originally.

Historians believe that popcorn was first introduced to the English colonist at the first Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The brother of a local Indian chief named Quadequina, was supposed to have brought a deerskin bag full of popped popcorn to the celebration as a gift. Over time, popcorn became a token of peace and goodwill whenever the colonists and Indians met for negotiations.

Before the English arrived in the Americas, it had already spread through India, China and Sumatra years before the first European explorers arrived on North America's shores.

Ears of popcorn over 5,600 years old were found in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico.

Popcorn has been sold on the streets since 1885.

In 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair, millions of visitors were introduced to a concoction of popcorn that included peanuts and molasses. Three years later it was introduced and patented as Cracker Jacks.

Popcorn figured prominently as a key to the experiments of Percy Spencer, at Raytheon Manufacturing Corporation, in developing the microwave for commercial use after World War II.

Americans consume 17 billion quarts of popcorn annually or 59 quarts per person. It might have something to do with the fact it is one of the most wholesome and economical foods available!

While the popularity of popcorn has increased throughout the rest of the world, it has been primarily a product of the Western Hemisphere for centuries.

At the turn of the century the average cup of unpopped popcorn produced about 15 cups of popped corn. Thanks to scientific breeding of various hybrid corns, a cup now expands to 30 cups of popped corn.

Some scientists claim that it was probably used hundreds of years ago to ferment sprouted kernels in order to brew an alcoholic maze beverage.

Hot air popped(only) popcorn makes a great packing material for shipping items.

For those who care, it's strictly a kosher snack.

I had a custom built popper like this in the storefront of each of my stores.

One of My Own Stores

Guilty As Charged!

I was one of those guilty humans that did plenty to ruin the healthy side of the snack while making it more tasty than ever. I owned a few gourmet popcorn stores years ago. My stores like many, took an otherwise healthy food and made it a fantastic tasting treat that was no longer a healthy treat when I got done with it. I had flavors including Rocky Road with marshmallows, walnuts and chocolate. I also had Jalapeno and Cheddar, Turtle Popcorn, Cookies 'n Cream and about 25 others. They were sooooo good! And in moderation there is nothing wrong with a flat out unhealthy treat, is there?

Secrets & Tips!

The Big Popcorn Cover Up and a Warning

The movie theatres and traditional popcorn tin sellers formerly used traditional popping methods that stirred in coconut oil and made it pretty tasty. While some chains still use coconut oil, the large majority have discontinued it and compromised the taste and even freshness somewhat. Coconut is what gave movie theatre popcorn the better taste over home popping years ago. I am convinced today that when the larger popping operations modernized and maximized their popping and production capabilities they compromised the product greatly. Coconut oils is absolutely the best for popping corn, although there is a debate over it's health issues.

At home, years ago, people used lard, vegetable oil and now quite often, canola oil. (My own grandmother used lard and bacon grease.) Today the large majority of theatre's and big popcorn tin producers are popping it with hot air poppers and then they spray on some flavoring after it is popped. It just isn't the same! In fact some theatre's pop it in a warehouse, spray on the flavoring and then store it for a few days in plastic bags before it is distributed to their theatre's. Then they put the previously popped popcorn in warming enclosures and smaller poppers to warm the popcorn make you think it is fresh. Those who do this, will still have poppers in their theatre's and they do actually pop some corn in their theatre's to put that fabulous smell in the air and make you think it's fresh. Of course they also like to popcorn in the theatre's because the smell is flat out irresistible. Let's face it, that smell does all the selling, even at the ridiculous prices that the theatre's charge.

To compensate for the lack of flavor most theatre's use a buttery non-hydrogenated soybean oil that adds about 120-130 calories per tablespoon whenever you ask for butter. Very, very few theatre's actually use real butter topping while their customers mistakenly believe they're getting butter.

Even without the buttery topping, researchers found movie theater popcorn is seasoned with an unhealthy dose of salt. Sodium levels ranged from 210 milligrams in the smallest 6-cup offering from AMC to a heart-stopping 1,500 milligrams in the large tub from Cinemark. That's an entire day's worth of sodium before the credits roll.

If you must munch on popcorn at the movie theatre, try to put the fact that the popcorn sold in movie theaters is so fat-loaded it's only a matter of time before the "nutrition police" want to ban it from movie theatres. "God save us from the good people!"


The Popcorn Board suggests consumers refrain from using plain or recycled paper bags (brown or white) to pop popcorn in a microwave.

Quite often plain and/or recycled papers are made from unknown materials that could catch fire, interfere with microwave cooking technology and lessen the performance and longevity of a microwave oven. More importantly, the unknown materials used in the making of these bags are not approved as food grade papers, and should not come in direct contact with food products. This does not include the bags used by Commercial Microwave Popcorn producers.

Recipe for Sour Cream 'N Chives Popcorn


  • 8 cups of popcorn
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon smooth cottage cheese or plain yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2-3 tablespoons dried chives
  • 2 cups sour cream 'n chive potato chips, crumbled (optional)

Melt butter in a small pan over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in cottage cheese or yogurt, garlic powder, onion powder and chives. Place popped popcorn in a large bowl. Dribble the mixture over the popcorn and toss with a large spoon to coat popcorn thoroughly. Spread the popcorn mixture on a greased baking sheet and place under your oven broiler for 1 minute. Watch carefully to be sure popcorn isn't burning. Remove baking sheet and cool. Lastly toss in extra chives. Add crumbled potato chips if desired.

A restored popcorn wagon by Bob Pearson in Olathe, KS

Popcorn is an extremely versatile snack!

Helpful Tips & Ideas

The best way to store popcorn kernels is to keep it airtight in a cool place. I actually store mine in the freezer or refrigerator. The most important thing is to keep it air tight to prevent losing the moisture in each kernel which is what causes the kernel to pop when heated to the correct temperature. If you keep it fresh and airtight, you'll end up with many less "oldmaids".

Keep in mind that while hot air popped corn may pop fluffier, it is also dryer and less tasty. Also, salt doesn't stick to it very well.

Sometimes air-popped popcorn is believed to be a healthy snack, however the American Dietetic Association advises consumers still need to read labels. Even microwave isn't even always the most tasty ,depending on what oil and how much oil is used in the microwave popcorn packets/bags you buy.

While some old-timers swear by popping with bacon grease, bacon grease (nor butter) will tolerate the perfect higher temperature it takes to have a good "old maidless" popcorn (around 450 degrees).

Popcorn is great for topping and adding some crispiness to soups or salads.

In general, one (1) ounce of un-popped popcorn equals a quart popped.

Some Basics for popping corn the old-fashioned way. Used about 1/2 cup of un-popped popcorn kernels to a tablesppon oil. In order to get the right temperature for popping and to maximize your yield of popped corn. Throw just a few kernels in the kettle or electric popper and wait until those kernels pop before adding the rest of the kernels. Once you add the kernels if you don't have an electric corn popper that stirs the popcorn, shake the kettle or pot ever minute or two until the popcorn begins to pop.

In my opinion the best caramel corn is made with brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and even a little vanilla. Some optional nuts such as peanuts, almonds or walnuts make it even more special, if you like nuts. While some folks like the taste of molasses in their popcorn, I usually find it's used to save money rather than to make the best caramel corn.

Some Ideas for Seasoning Popcorn at Home

  • Garlic salt
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Prepared mustard with 2 tablespoons of butter
  • Chili powder
  • Crushed rosemary
  • Cumin
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Lemon pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Fennel
  • Bacon (fried, crispy and drained)
  • Dry taco seasoning mix
  • Dry ranch-style seasoning mix
  • "Kraft" Velveeta Cheese melted with butter on low heat and poured over popcorn
  • Cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg

* You can also season the popping oil with spices to create a lightly flavored treat

For More Information on Popcorn

The Popcorn Board.

401 N Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
Fax: 312-321-6869

The Popcorn Board is a non-profit organization funded by U.S. popcorn processors. The Board strives to raise the awareness of U.S. popcorn as a versatile, whole-grain snack via domestic and international marketing efforts.


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    • Sustainable Sue profile image

      Sustainable Sue 6 months ago from Altadena CA, USA

      Wow. I just rewrote a hub about air popped popcorn, giving three savory (rather than sweet) recipes, then read yours for the unknown facts. It was fascinating, including the origins and what movie theaters really sell. I love popcorn, but have been curbing my feasting, because I didn't know how healthy it was. Thank you for giving me permission to indulge (lol).

    • profile image

      Lindsey 6 years ago

      That was great! Very educational and fun!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Thanks for giving me some additional facts about one of my favorite snacks. I'm glad it has all these additional benefits. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • RetailRich profile image

      RetailRich 6 years ago

      Sorry it took so long. Thanks so much for the kind words. I enjoyed writing it. I love the warm caramel corn a few blocks from the lakefront in Chicago. Can't remember the name of the shop though. I'm wondering if it was Garrett's.

    • RetailRich profile image

      RetailRich 6 years ago

      Thanks so much. I enjoyed writing it.

    • SanneL profile image

      SanneL 6 years ago from Sweden

      I have to agree with my friend Dexter, this is truly the best article about popcorn EVER!!

      I am a popcorn junkie! When I like a snack I turn to popcorn. I sprinkle very little salt, (since too much salt is no good) but sprinkle a lot of the very healthy ground turmeric which gives the popcorn a nice color.

      Great hub!

      Voted up and pressed all the right buttons on this one.


    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 6 years ago from United States

      Hi RetailRich! This has to be the BEST article I have read about popcorn EVER! And as a Chicagoan, I know my popcorn! Thanks for sharing such great information in a superb hub!