Many people think popcorn, sweet corn and field corn are one in the same – but they’re not.
Field – sometimes known as dent corn – claims the greatest acreage of corn grown in the U.S. Roughly 88 million acres of field corn are planted each year. The crop is primarily used for animal feed and corn related products. Sweet corn is bred for its sweet taste and is picked early, when the kernels are fully formed but not fully mature (this is known as the milk stage). About 266,000 acres of sweet corn were grown in the U.S. in 2010. This corn is prepared and consumed as a vegetable, even though technically it is a grain.
Popcorn is the only type of corn that pops (hence, the name), and is grown on about 200,000 acres in the U.S. Each kernel of popcorn contains a small drop of water stored inside a circle of soft starch. When harvested, popcorn is dried so that it contains about 14 percent moisture. This is what allows it to pop. As the kernel heats up – whether on the stove top, over the fire or in a microwave – the water expands, creates steam and cooks the starch inside, turning it into a liquid mass. Pressure builds inside until it breaks the hull open, the contents inflate and spill out.
And here are a few of our favorite popcorn recipes: