Salted, buttered, covered in caramel, sprinkled with cinnamon, paprika, chocolate… So many ways to top a great snack! Popcorn is an irresistible treat that is many centuries old and is enjoyed today by people from around the world. But who were the first ones to savour it? And how did it become so popular? Well, its yummy smell probably helped!

once upon a time in the east

The history of popcorn is deeply linked to the American continent and the peoples who inhabited it. In fact, archaeologists discovered traces of popcorn there that were about 5,600 years old. Corn was essential in the Pre-Columbian indigenous societies of America, and not only as food; they also used it for decorating clothes and in ritual ceremonies. Both the Mayans and the Aztecs worshipped maize gods and goddesses, which they associated with abundance and prosperity. Myths about the death and rebirth of gods were connected to the change of the seasons and the production of corn, which was their main food source. The Mayans also believed that their ancestors were made from maize dough.

434 PopCorn


When French explorers arrived in the New World they witnessed the Iroquois Indians, who lived in the Great Lakes region, pop corn kernels in jars filled with heated sand. By then, popcorn was widely eaten in Native American tribes. They ate is as a snack, but also with milk and sugar just like a breakfast cereal. Colonists soon developed a taste for popcorn, which they liked to cook with molasses, making a treat very similar to today’s kettle corn. By the mid-19th century, popcorn had become a favoured snack among people of all backgrounds and ages.


In the 1890s, a man called Charles Cretors who owned a candy store was looking for a more effective peanut roaster. He designed a new steam-powered machine that could be used both to roast peanuts and to popcorn, thus inventing the first commercial popcorn machine. He installed it in a horse-drawn wagon and took to the streets. Popcorn vendors soon became extremely popular, strategically placing themselves near crowds in fairs, markets and especially outside theatres. This way, popcorn became the favourite snack of cinemagoers. In 1981, microwave popcorn was invented, and the consumption of popcorn at home skyrocketed. Studies say that every American eats thirty-nine kilos of popcorn every year!