Monday, 16 January 2017

Aztec Gold: The History And Science Of Popcorn

Popcorn is a truly ancient snack. Archaeologists have uncovered popcorn kernels that are 4,000 years old. They were so well-preserved, they could still pop. Corn, and specifically popcorn, helped lay the foundations for the Aztec empire.

When you have a highly productive crop like corn, it makes the rise of higher civilizations possible.
The oldest popcorn ever found was discovered in the "Bat Cave" of central New Mexico. It is thought to be about 5,600 years old. Sometimes, conditions can preserve ancient popcorn so perfectly that it still looks fluffy and white when the dust is blown off of it. In a cave in southern Utah, researchers found surprisingly fresh-looking 1,000-year-old popcorn.
Europeans learned about popcorn from Native Americans. When Cortes invaded Mexico, and when Columbus arrived in the West Indies, each saw natives eating popcorn. Native Americans brought a bag of popped corn to the first Thanksgiving.

A common way to eat popcorn at that time was to hold an oiled ear on a stick over the fire, then chew the popped kernels off it. Natives throughout the Americas also made a popcorn beer. Some made popcorn soup.
After the Spanish invaded, popcorn spread around the world, and soon people began to figure out how popcorn actually works. The rock-hard kernel — the thing that makes popcorn impossible to eat raw — is the key.

"It acts as a pressure cooker," says a food scientist. The durable kernel keeps water and starch sealed inside. When a kernel is heated, the starch liquefies and the pressure builds until the seed coat breaks. A popcorn kernel is actually a seed. Like other seeds, inside it has a tiny plant embryo. The embryo is surrounded by soft, starchy material that would give the embryo energy for growing into a plant.

The ideal popcorn kernel contains about 14 percent moisture. If the popcorn is too much drier, it will not pop.