Off the cob and into the tub: the plot of the popcorn story


What else is romance if not snuggling up to a bowlful of popcorn on a movie night as a long due occasion in self indulgence conjuring up for one a bliss in the most typical mannerisms of it? A classic forever case at the theaters or in a home setup as well, whether you slide into some plush seat in the former or cosy up instead under the warmest of your blankets back home, the irrefutable claim of the experience in movie watching being bettered with that infinite bowl of light and snacky, and oh healthy and delicious as well, popcorn is as universal a drawing from real life events upon which the world of cinema also treads. Venture outside however the realms of this reel- real distinction and popcorn still makes for a snack that dwells on an altogether different level of charting in the food world. Forever modest a munching option but never any less indulgent in the experience of it even in utmost basicness, an addictive almost inclination in healthiness and for sure a universally comforting idea both in the savouring of its taste and the sinking in of the emotional nostalgia characterising its every kernel in gilded immaculateness, every essentially big serving of popcorn makes for an entailing in versatility that amounts to a gargantuan global popularity of it continuing through the ages of its dignified legacy in existence.

The versatility of popcorn is such that augurs well for its forever in demand status, spurring in fact this facet of its being by offering a myriad of flavors of its enjoyment to cater to the many preferences and taste buds of as many popcorn crazy enthusiasts of the world. Whether you choose to have it the classic salted way or treat it instead as a worthy dessert almost fix for your cravings in its as classic caramel version, this simple serving in a gratifying almost enjoyment sure appeals to every person of the world. And despite its more than close connect to the literally and not metaphorically dark world of the movies, digging into a bowl of these puffed up delights in white prettiness makes for as enjoyable an indulgence across other such events and occasions in viewing, think sporting events and the like, even as fairs and carnivals would necessarily present charming almost visuals in glass sided popcorn poppers going about that act in even more diverse a dimension of its versatility. Even as a party snack, popcorn has always stood out as one of the favorites, with its characteristic qualities in easy convenience and instant ‘cooking’ as well as non messy attributes furthering this claim in quick serving. And with a host of flavours to choose from, beyond the classic choices and bordering along the lines of the gourmet instead, it is no wonder that popcorn has stood the test of time and the taste of preferences to proclaim itself as one of the most popular of snack foods.

And yet, the versatility of popcorn does not allow it to rest in a reputation of just the snacky kind. In fact before coming to rest in this realm of its profile classification, popcorn used to be a breakfast staple particularly during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries as probably the first breakfast cereal the world would relish with all that pour of the milk and sprinkling of the sugars. Whether this is a myth unfounded or a reality that indeed had been, the assertion of popcorn and milk still does well to testify the essence of this now essential snack food as one of diverse indeed taking to tastes- and claims as well. And why just milk though, popcorn has also treaded well into the space of soupy renditions to emerge therefore as fitting into yet another category of cuisine. Popcorn balls also had been a thing during the turn of the 20th century when they were relished as a sweet treat and makes still for offering as Halloween candy in some places of the world. Contemporary interpretations of popcorn ‘recipes’ are much more imaginative with flavours that combine starkly contrasting elements like in the case of the much popular caramel bacon indulgence. And thus continues the lore and legacy of the humble popcorn in all fancied assertion of its versatility making it a food unlike any other ever taken by the world in such diverse interest of its manifestation.

The unmistakable association of popcorn and cinema might make it seem like a rather modern food to have appealed to the evolving sensibilities of an easily intrigued humankind but tracing the history of this surprising snack comes across as rather old a man’s tale in itself. Discovered in a cave in New Mexico is what is probably the first ever popped corn of the world, dating back approximately by some 6000 years and probably chanced upon as one of the many accidents in cooking that has created a vast many absolute culinary favorites of today’s world. Popping perhaps served as the first use of the early corn cultivated throughout the length and breadth of the Americas and yet it might not exactly be an American discovery- this curiously cracking case of the corn. There exists documentation of Indians popping corn long before, though still within the American expanse of Mexico where they used clay pots to initiate this delightful mechanism in food science. Even before though, the Indians had already devised an even ingenious and rather interesting way to treat themselves to these kernels in popping measure. What they did was to hold the end of a long pointed stick that had a corn ear mounted on it over a fire triggering therefore the kernels to pop off the cob and fly around everywhere. Sometimes the kernels were directly thrown into the fire instead, bursting and popping and scattering in all directions on the ground to be picked up and enjoyed not just as a snack but as quite an entertaining pastime as well!

And yet, ‘recreation’ would not be the only alternative use that this amazingly adaptable food of all times has been rendered capable of in all its means of studded calibre. As jewelry or ornamentation, popcorn finds prominent enough use particularly as threaded strings making for Christmas tree decorations along some part of North Americana and across the Balkan peninsula. Steeped also in religious significance would be these multiple kernels of popping potential as would be prevalent through a particular custom of the Aztecs. An offering of a certain kind of corn that had the ability to burst into some lookalike of a white flower would regularly mark the rituals worshipping their water god, connotating possibly the commercial shape of the popped kernel that identifies itself as butterfly or snowflake. As irregular shaped flakes with a number of protruding wings, these ‘butterflies’ indeed allude to that picture in nature’s prettiness and is as likely to reveal themselves as also flowery beauties of nature. Not just the aesthetics though, the butterfly flakes score also over their other ball shaped counterpart in popping referred to as the ‘mushroom’ in having a better mouthfeel and residing in greater tenderness for a more exotic enjoyment of the popcorn phenomenon. And just for the record, it isn’t just the popped kernels that most appropriately sum up the ‘popcorn’ identity in collective assertion that encompass such distinct names in essence; even the kernels that simply would not give in to the pressure of their popping comes across as in rather playful rendition of their kind as old maids or spinsters!

Their exclusive resting in such interesting names though isn’t the only thing intriguing about popcorn. Equally commanding of attention would be the basics of what makes up this exercise in rather striking assertion. Holding within them some amount of natural moisture are the strains of corn exclusively harbouring this ability in popping. On heating, this moisture turns into steam that remains trapped inside the hard outer coat causing therefore the kernel to explode and pop into that delightful flake of snowy indeed stupor and gigantic indeed a manifestation of its actual size. In this completely air popped mechanism of its changing form and shape and size and identity, this very popular snack food passes off as also one of the healthier foods around packed with essential minerals and nutrients and devoid of sugars and salts in essence. Fluffy and puffy and enticing as well a savoring in sight and taste, commercial popcorn though tends to take upon an assertion not exactly as pristine in its health quotient loaded as they are with salts and/ or sugars, with also other flavoring agents from the basic oil and butter to the exotic spices and stuff not exactly so conducive in their status of desirability. Consider also the possible hazard of choking upon these dry balls particularly by children and popcorn should not really be the most ideal of snacks around. But given how most other snacks fare even poorly on the health scale, the unassuming pop of the corn should still amount for comparatively healthier a snack to rather switch over to. And considering also how economical it is to treat yourself to some popcorn, whether it be on an occasional outing at the fair or as a munching delight when bored at home but not much perhaps at movie theaters where they tend to be rather pricey, this continuing crunch in culinary chronicle continues as well its historic run in versatility in really wide aspects of it.

And whether you munch away on them at the movies, sometimes fully indulging in that tradition of typical ritualistic leanings or at other times too engrossed in the plot of what you are watching to really feel that mouthfeel of the flake melting away in your mouth after that bite in perfect crunch, or crave for some out of nowhere, there’s a valid enough reason why popcorn has such an overwhelming almost effect on your senses. It is the smell of that tub of popcorn that triggers indeed the desire to snack, packed as it is with high levels of the aromatic chemical compounds 6-acetyl-2,3,4,5- tetrahydropyridine and 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, that which gives off the irresistibly pleasant aroma of them. Exploiting this particular characteristic of popcorn made way for them to find widespread popularity at the theaters where they were initially sought to be banned by theater owners for reasons of the mess they would create as well as in being addictive enough to distract revellers away from the filming. But the increasing popularity that popcorn had come to rest in particularly since the times of the Great Depression mainly owing to its economical nature meant that it should indeed infiltrate into all aspects of life and living. And thus it did, accompanied by as resoundingly popular an invention of the popcorn maker that made this good stuff even more easily available. This allowed also the popcorn a way to sneak into areas of the residential crossing over the alleys of the commercial and the popping became prominent at homes housing microwaves that could satiate the gargantuan appetite for these immensely humble kernels in metamorphosis. Today available as ready to eat products in as many variations of existence as would possibly be and as readily willing to unfold all that drama in popping and jumping out of the (covered) pan and into the fire, popcorn continues to rule the roost as perhaps the most ubiquitous snack ever. Convenient an indulgence in eating and allowing oneself to take pride in such choices in snacking that tend to be guilt free as well, the journey of the versatile grain of corn from each kernel on the cob to every flake upon the popcorn bucket sure makes for a tale worthy of exploring along the appeal of the big screen!