Did you know that the corn we eat and the corn we pop are two different varieties of maize? In fact, the corn you’d find on your dinner table is most likely unable to pop at all! Only one variety of corn is able to become popcorn: Zea mays everta. This particular corn variety has small ears, and the kernels burst when exposed to dry heat.
In 1948, small heads of Zea mays everta were discovered by Herbert Dick and Earle Smith in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico. Ranging from smaller than a penny to about two inches, the oldest Bat Cave ears were about 4,000 years old. Several individually popped kernels were also discovered, which have since been carbon dated and shown to be approximately 5,600 years old. There’s also evidence of early use of popcorn in Peru, Mexico, and Guatemala, as well as other places in Central and South America.
Aztecs used popcorn to decorate their clothes, create ceremonial embellishments, and also for nourishment. Native Americans have also been found to consume and utilize popcorn in their day to day lives. In a cave in Utah, thought to be inhabited by Pueblo Native Americans, popcorn has been found that dates back to over 1,000 years ago. French explorers who traveled to the new world discovered popcorn being made by the Iroquois Natives in the Great Lakes region. As colonists moved around North America, and as the USA came to be, many people adopted popcorn as a popular and healthy snack.