Magic of popcorn
Zea mays everta
Known scientifically as Zea mays everta, popcorn is the only type of corn that pops. Its kernels are more spherical than other corn kernels, and its pericarp — the hull that surrounds the seed — is a little thicker. The starch inside the seed is embedded in a protein matrix called the endosperm
When the kernel is heated above 100 degrees Celsius, the water inside turns to steam. That water vapor forces its way into the hard endosperm, creating a molten mass, like bread dough.
Pressure continues to build up until the hull can no longer hold it in. Then the kernel explodes.
The starch cools as soon as it bursts, solidifying into a spongy white flake of popcorn. When all is said and done, the inverted kernel is twice as large and eight times less dense.
There are other grains that pop, including millet, quinoa and amaranth, but none of them do so as dramatically as popcorn.
Corn was first domesticated in Mexico 9,000 years ago from a wild grass. A few thousands of years later it then made its way across Central to South America Popcorn is one of the oldest forms of corn; evidence of popcorn from 3600 B.C. was found in New Mexico.
Corncobs found at two ancient sites in Peru (Paredones and Huaca Prieta) may date from as early as 4700 B.C. This suggests that people living along the coast of northern Peru were already eating popcorn by that time.
Popcorn was integral to early 16th century Aztec Indian ceremonies. Bernardino de Sahagun writes: "And also a number of young women danced, having so vowed, a popcorn dance. As thick as tassels of maize were their popcorn garlands. And these they placed upon (the girls') heads."
In 1519, Cortes got his first sight of popcorn when he invaded Mexico and came into contact with the Aztecs. Popcorn was an important food for the Aztec Indians, who also used popcorn as decoration for ceremonial headdresses, necklaces and ornaments on statues of their gods, including Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility.
An early Spanish account of a ceremony honoring the Aztec gods who watched over fishermen reads: "They scattered before him parched corn, called momochitl, a kind of corn which bursts when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower; they said these were hailstones given to the god of water."
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