Whether you’re cheering at a ballpark, checking out the latest box office release or settling down on the sofa for family movie night, popcorn has been one of America’s most beloved snack-time sidekicks for decades.

If your child has ever wondered what’s going on inside your microwave as you pop up this tasty treat, grab a front-row seat and find out what all the noise is about. It’s time to go behind the scenes with one of the world’s oldest snack foods.

So what makes popcorn pop? And why doesn’t all corn pop when heated? The answer is a matter of simple science. Popcorn is a special kind of corn. Of all the types of corn, popcorn is the only variety that pops.

Inside each kernel of popcorn is a tiny droplet of water surrounded by a hard shell called a hull. As the popcorn is heated, the water turns into steam, which builds pressure inside the kernel. When the hull can no longer contain the pressure — POP! — the kernel explodes and a fluffy new piece of popcorn is born.

The transformation from popcorn kernel to popcorn puff happens in the blink of an eye. A neat video at Popcorn.org slows down the popping process to give you a slow motion look at what’s really going on when you hear that signature pop.

In America, consumption of popcorn rose steadily with the increasing popularity of television sets in the home during the 1950s. As more people began staying home and tuning into their TV for entertainment, they found themselves craving a salty snack. The natural choice, of course, was popcorn!

Long before the television was ever invented, however, popcorn was a part of American culture. Some historians even suggest Native Americans introduced the Pilgrims to popcorn when they brought it to the first Thanksgiving feast.

Though Americans consume more popcorn than any other country in the world today, archaeologists have found popcorn kernels in New Mexican caves they believe to be more than 4,000 years old, suggesting this savory snack has been a part of cultures around the world for centuries.

When Spanish explorers arrived in Mexico, they discovered the Aztec Indians used popcorn to make the garlands, headdresses and ornaments they wore during “popcorn dances.” The Indians used to tell a legend explaining the popcorn phenomenon.

The legend claimed a tiny demon lived inside each kernel of popcorn. When the demon’s house was heated, he would get so angry he would explode!


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    • You are a GREAT WONDERer, Dustin! Way to go! Every kernel of popcorn has a tiny droplet of water inside of it that is surrounded by a hull (hard shell). When the popcorn is heated, the water droplet turns into steam, building pressure inside the kernel and causing it to POP, POP, POP! We encourage you to re-explore this Wonder to learn more about popcorn! :-)

    • We love popcorn, too, Syd! It’s fun to eat at the movie theater, at home during family movie nights, or as a snack anytime of the day! Thanks for sharing your comment with us! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Does all corn make popcorn?
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Try It Out

Though there may not have been a kernel of truth to the tale of the popcorn demon, inventing stories about food can be a fun way to stimulate imagination and conversation around the dinner table with your family.

Challenge your child to get creative with their favorite (and least favorite) foods and watch as broccoli turns into a miniature forest, blueberries become tiny bowling balls and flying saucer pancakes make their way past a pad of butter moon right before your eyes.


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corn  maize  microwave  movie  pop  popcorn 

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If today’s wonder added a little pop to snack time, tomorrow’s wonder will add a little pixie dust to story time. Meet you back in Wonderopolis!

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