National Popcorn Day

National Popcorn Day

By Lisa Hadden

It seems like every day is a special holiday of some sort in the United States. There is “National Hot Chocolate Day,” “National Blueberry Pancake Day” and “National Fun at Work Day,” just to name a few. However, January 19 was National Popcorn Day and I used this opportunity to visit second grade classrooms and talk about this tasty treat.

Popcorn is a healthy whole grain snack that was discovered thousands of years ago. In the late 19th century, Ella Kellogg, married to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (owner of Kellogg’s company, famous for breakfast cereals among other treats), enjoyed her popcorn with milk or cream. She discouraged snacking between meals but understood that popcorn was an easily digestible whole grain food. Therefore, she encouraged people to include it with their meals.

It really began to catch on as a snack at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition — or world’s fair — in Chicago. The fair was open for six months and attendees rode their first Ferris wheel, tasted Juicy Fruit gum for the first time and ate a LOT of popcorn.

Throughout the years popcorn has become increasingly popular, especially around the holidays. It is inexpensive and can be used for decorations and gifts. In 2003, a class of second and third graders from Joliet, along with their teacher, decided it should be the Illinois state snack. They went through the proper channels and the state legislature passed this as a law in August of 2003.

The important thing for students to learn about popcorn is that it is different from field corn and sweet corn. Sweet corn is what we eat off the cob or purchase frozen or in cans. Field corn is grown for livestock feed and to be processed into thousands of different by-products, such as corn syrup that is used to flavor your favorite soda.

Why the name “popcorn?” The biggest difference between popcorn and other corn is that each kernel of popcorn contains a small amount of water. When it is heated, the water droplet expands and builds up pressure against the hard starch surface. The outer layer gives way, and the kernel turns inside out. A popcorn kernel can pop three feet into the air.

Some other interesting popcorn facts:

• Americans eat 4.5 billion gallons of popcorn each year. This would fill the Empire State Building 18 times from top to bottom!

• If you popped the 20 million kernels that would grow on one acre (the size of a football field), you would have a 4-inch layer of the fluffy snack.

  • There are two shapes of popcorn. Butterfly is what you would get at the movie theater or ballgames with butter and salt. Mushroom is more round with plenty of surface area to which sugary goodness can attach. So, this would be used for caramel corn and all the other amazing flavors.

As Cris Peterson says in her book, “Popcorn Country: The Story of America’s Favorite Snack,” “America is popcorn country, and popcorn is America’s gift to the world.”

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