Popcorn Popping History: Popping popcorn then and now

A street vendor in Lohri, India using sand and salt to pop popcorn.

by Debi and Grant

It's easy to pop popcorn. Just heat sand in a fire, stir in the popcorn kernels, and there you go. How simple.

Of course we have much easier popcorn popping methods than ancient Native Americans did. From theater style popcorn popper machines to microwaves, we have a wide range of popping methods at our disposal.  

However, as this YouTube video shows, popping popcorn in sand is still a method used in India.

Popping Popcorn in the Old Days

A popcorn breakfast recipe that appeared in a 1916 recipe book by Mary Hamilton Talbott.

In the colonial days, the method of popping popcorn took a huge pop from from the sand to a cylinder of thin sheet-iron that revolved on an axle in front of the fire. Popcorn was a popular breakfast dish served with sugar and cream. 

 Charles Cretors of Chicago, Illinois is credited with inventing the first popcorn machine in 1885. Popcorn street vendors became popular through following decades.

Popping Popcorn Today

The most popular method of popping popcorn today is, of course, with the microwave. A visit to the grocery store popcorn aisle will show rows of microwave popcorn. While this is an improvement to the hot sand method, many are questioning the health issues of microwave popcorn. Quite simply, those microwave popcorn bags have got a lot of calories plus an assortment of chemicals.

Step back a couple of decades and you've got a range of popcorn poppers. For the health conscience, hot air popcorn poppers, with only about 30 calories per serving. Oil popcorn poppers for those wanting a bit more taste. Most stores don't carry a good selection of popcorn poppers (not with everyone purchasing microwave popcorn), but that changes online. And the popcorn poppers today are much more sophisticated that those used in the 70's.

For people wanting to duplicate the movie theater popcorn experience, there are several popcorn popper machines that can bring it home. Ranging in prices from the low hundreds to thousands, these popcorn machines can be a great addition to a home theater or game room. And with the right seasoning, you can easily duplicate the movie theater popcorn taste.

So, we've improved the popcorn popping experience from what the ancient Native Americans had. However, they did have something called popcorn beer. We'll save that for another article.

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