National Popcorn day is fast approaching... but how did it end up as the cinema snack of choice?11 January 2019
Popcorn is a wonderfully durable little snack. Great salted, even better sweetened, and also bizarrely delicious when dusted in sundried tomato and chilli (thank you, Waitrose). It’s magical ‘popping’ ability is due to the moisture hiding inside each kernel, which, when heated, expands and causes the hull to burst. Despite its simplicity, the tiny grain has a huge history.
So where did popcorn originate?
According to Popcorn.org, the oldest ear of popcorn was discovered in a cave called ‘Bat Cave’ in New Mexico in 1948. The kernels were carbon dated and found to be approximately 5,600 years old.
Popcorn had a key place in early 16th century Aztec Indian ceremonies too. Young women would wear a garland of popped corn on their heads and participate in a special ‘popcorn dance’. These headdresses and necklaces would also adorn statues of Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility.
In the United States, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, popcorn was the breakfast food of choice. Grounded and eaten with milk or cream, the unlikely combination was praised by John H. Kellogg, one of the founders of cornflakes. A healthy whole-grain, it was the inspiration behind the now iconic breakfast food.
Why on earth do we eat popcorn at the cinema?
It’s a weird snack of choice since it’s unbelievably loud, greasy and messy, but a trip to the pictures just wouldn’t be the same without it. Unfortunately, the truth behind its cinema-staple origins is a lot less exciting than you’d imagine. Simply, popcorn was - and is - cheap to make.
Nowadays, buying a carton of popcorn at the cinema, along with your movie ticket, is the equivalent of putting a deposit on a small flat in central London (or so it feels like). However, back in 1885, when the first steam-powered popcorn roamed Chicago streets, popcorn was only five to ten cents (four to eight pence) per bag.
Sold outside movie theatres in portable gas-powered vendors, the tantalising aroma and exciting exploding spectacle made popcorn the perfect pre-cinema entertainment. Kernels could be stored for years, so losses were nil and profits high. Picturehouses soon caught a whiff of this phenomenon and started selling popcorn inside their establishments. And today, the scent of freshly popped corn is synonymous with the movies.
You’re not alone. According to research group Mintel, UK popcorn sales have grown 169% in the last five years. If you’ve got a hankering for the crunchy snack, and you don’t want to sit through a two-hour long unsatisfying rom-com to get a taste of the authentic stuff, take a trip to vouchercloud’s collection of shopping discounts and satisfy your snacking fix for less.