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Popcorn, also known as popping corn, is a special variety of corn (Zea mays everta). Each kernel contains a tiny drop of water. When it is heated, the water expands causing the kernel to explode and flip inside out. Most US popcorn is grown in Nebraska and Indiana, and increasingly in Texas.


Native Americans first discovered popcorn thousands of years ago in Guatemala or Mexico. It was popped in China during the Song Dynasty (960-279) as well as in Sumatra and India long before Columbus reached the Americas. In 1948 and 1950, anthropologist Herbert Dick and botanist Earle Smith discovered ears of popcorn in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico. The ears measured from smaller than a penny to about 2 inches. They were carbon dated to be about 5,600 years old.


In 1519 when he invaded Mexico, Hernando Cortes first saw popcorn when he met the Aztecs. Popcorn was important to the Aztecs as food, as decoration for ceremonial headdresses and necklaces, and as ornaments on statues of their gods. Around 1612, French explorers around the Great Lakes met Iroquois who used heated sand in a pottery vessel to make popcorn.


There is an unproven theory that an Indian named Quadequina brought a deerskin bag of popped corn for first Thanksgiving feast on October 15, 1621.


Colonial housewives served popcorn with sugar and cream for breakfast. Some colonists used a cylinder of thin sheet-iron that revolved on an axle in front of the fireplace to make popped corn.


In 1885, Charles Cretors of Chicago, Illinois, invented the first popcorn machine. Street vendors were soon pushing steam or gas-powered poppers through fairs, parks, and expositions. Today much of the popcorn you buy at movies and fairs is popped in machines manufactured by the Cretors family. In 1914, in Sioux City, Iowa, Cloid H. Smith created America's first branded popcorn (Jolly Time), and for the first time, popcorn was available in grocery stores.


Americans eat more than 17 billion quarts of popcorn a year, an average of 60 quarts per person per year. As the result of an elementary school project, popcorn became the official state snack food of Illinois. January 19 is National Popcorn Day, and October is National Popcorn Month.