News Column

National Popcorn Day: Five Facts About a Popular Snack

Jan. 19, 2012
National Popcorn Day, Five Facts, About popcorn

Even the Popcorn Board, a promotional group funded by U.S. popcorn processors, can only speculate as to the origins of National Popcorn Day. But if nothing else, National Popcorn Day, Jan. 19, is a great excuse to enjoy the snack. Here are five facts about popcorn to help you enjoy National Popcorn Day.

1] According to the National Agricultural Library, Americans consume about 17.3 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year, with the average American eating about 68 quarts yearly.

2] Movie popcorn, while clearly a favorite of theatergoers, represents one of the biggest consumer rip-offs available. According to a CNNMoney article from 2010, a medium bag of movie popcorn is about a 900 percent markup. All the more reason to enjoy your popcorn at home on National Popcorn Day!

3] But be careful how you prepare it: microwave popcorn has been vilified in recent years due to the presence of certain chemicals used in its making. Microwave popcorn bags can be coated with a chemical that when heated creates perfluorooctanoic acid. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2005 identified perfluorooctanoic acid as a "likely carcinogen," though direct links between microwave popcorn and cancer caused by perfluorooctanoic acid have not been established. Also present in some microwave popcorn is diacetyl, which is an FDA-approved chemical found in (fake) butter flavoring. According to, "Diacetyl has been linked to a rare type of lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, also called 'popcorn worker's lung' because it has been seen primarily in workers at microwave popcorn factories. This disease destroys the lungs and can be cured only by a lung transplant." Air poppers, stove-top popping, or non-packaged microwave methods (such as specially made tempered glass products), may be preferable methods to make popcorn if you are wary of the microwaveable popcorn products.

4] There are two standard shapes of popped popcorn: the "butterfly" and the "mushroom." "Butterfly" popcorn is called such due to its several "wings," while "mushroom" popcorn is basically ball shaped. "Mushroom" popcorn is preferred for use in candy and recipes as it doesn't crumble as easily, while "butterfly" popcorn is thought to have a better mouth feel and is preferred for straight-up snacking.

5] The history of popcorn is an ancient one; there is evidence of popcorn use in 16th century Aztec Indian ceremonies. According to The Popcorn Board, "the oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950." The oldest are estimated to be about 4,000 years old.

*Bonus trivia: One quirky use for popcorn air poppers: roasting coffee. Home coffee roasting enthusiasts have taken to roasting green coffee beans in certain kinds of air popcorn poppers.

Source: (c) 2012. All rights reserved.

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