What Makes Popcorn Pop

The youngest visitors to Jody's Popcorn store or the factory in Virginia Beach always seem most fascinated by how popcorn is made. They always ask, "What makes popcorn pop?"

There are two answers to this question. One is based in Native American folklore. The other is more scientific.

Native American Beliefs About the Popcorn Pop

Native Americans long enjoyed popcorn before Colonial settlers arrived. In fact, new Americans learned how to make popcorn from the natives of this land.

Native American Wigwam at Historic Jamestown

Jody's Popcorn store and the nearby factory are only about an hour's drive from Jamestown, where English settlers first succeeded in establishing a colony that is now America. How appropriate that some of the best popcorn in this country is still made where Americans first learned about this intriguing and fun snack!

Native Americans believed that each kernel of popcorn held a spirit. If the kernel grew too hot, the angered spirit would burst out of the kernel and into the air in a clear statement of disgust.

The natives respected popcorn and used it to craft jewelry and headdresses. Newcoming colonists were as fascinated by the corn as children in Jody's store and factory are, today.

Native Americans brought popcorn for English colonists to snack on during meetings and as a show of goodwill. Soon, colonists started calling the fluffy corn popped corn, rice corn and parching corn. Obviously the name popped corn became the reference of choice.

Scientific Explanation

Popcorn is a type of corn. There are four common types of corn and popcorn can only be made from the popcorn type. This is because popcorn, the plant, is different than other types of corn. Its hull is thin enough for the corn to pop open when heated.

The inside of a popcorn kernel is very interesting. Each kernel holds a tiny drop of water. This is contained within a shell of soft starch. That soft starch is then covered by the kernel's hull.

When the kernel gets hot, the water inside expands. At about 212 degrees Fahrenheit the water becomes steam. This steam transforms the soft starch shell into a very hot jelly-like goo.

After the kernel has reached 347 degrees, the expanding starch and steam pressure inside creates so much pressure on the thin hull that it bursts open in an audible pop. When the kernel erupts, steam pours out. The soft starch has, at this point, become inflated. When the starch is exposed to cooler outside air it forms the fluffy shape everyone loves to enjoy. This fluffy popcorn is then 40 to 50 times larger than its original kernel size.

Jody's Method

Popcorn at Jody's is prepared the old-fashioned way, in big poppers very similar to the ones used since the 1890's in Chicago. In fact, Jody makes her popcorn and started this business because she and her husband Alan fell in love on the streets of Chicago, enjoying caramel corn as they walked together on date nights. Her husband even proposed to her by placing her ring into the prize envelope of a Cracker Jack box. There was love in that box, then. That love of popcorn continues at Jody's Popcorn, today.

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