Updated: Jun 25
People have been snacking on popcorn for thousands of years. It is one of the oldest types of corn and for good reason. It is hard to resist the smell and taste of a warm bowl of popcorn fresh off the stove. While movie theaters have always had a firm grip on the benefits of this tasty treat, many homes continue to incorporate popcorn into their daily lives. It isn’t unusual for families to enjoy a bowl of popcorn as a nightly treat in place of dessert.
Many small farmers are choosing to grow popcorn in their fields to help diversify their crops. The ever-present need for popcorn leaves it in high demand in many cultures around the world. While corn is a common staple of many area farmers, popcorn offers a chewy treat that can be enjoyed plain, with butter, or with a wide combination of flavors. Learn more about why you should consider growing popcorn this year.
Popcorn is derived from maize, which is a grass variety with the scientific name of zea mays everta. As with any ancient grain, it is hard to know when popcorn was first heated up to create the fluffy snack that we all know and love today. Popcorn is its own corn variety and is a harder and smaller version of flint corn. The stalks produce many ears at one time, and the tassels of mature popcorn are floppier than its corn counterparts. While many corn varieties are GMO modified, popcorn has yet to be genetically modified. This makes popcorn a great option for those organic farmers who want to stick with natural crop alternatives.
There are a few different varieties when it comes to popcorn. You can choose from two different kernel shapes, as well as a wide range of colors. Many consumers find their favorite shape and color and rarely deviate.
Two Different Types
While popcorn kernels are all small in comparison to other seeds, there are two distinct shapes that you can choose from as a farmer: pearl and rice. Pearl popcorn seeds are smooth with rounded edges. Rice popcorn seeds are longer than their pearl counterparts. In fact, before popcorn was officially named, it was sold in stores as Pearl of NonPareil in relation to these two types of kernels.
Two Basic Shapes
You may have noticed that kettle corn popcorn is a different shape from other popcorn. After popcorn pops, it usually is in the form of either a snowflake or mushroom shape. The mushroom shape is a smaller kernel with a rounded top that is great when adding caramel or candy confections. The mushroom shape is sturdier than the snowflake varieties and is less likely to break.
Snowflake shaped popcorn, also sometimes called butterfly, is the shape that most consumers know well thanks to its presence in commercially sold varieties as well as ballparks and movie theaters. It is prone to more breakage than mushroom varieties but also pops substantially bigger as well.
While most consumers are familiar with white and yellow colored popcorn, there are some more exotic colors as well. Blue, red, pink, and multi-colored popcorn are also available for custom or specialized markets.
While we all know and love eating popcorn, growing this popular snack is worth the investment.
One acre of land can produce up to 30,000 seeds of popcorn. Farmers harvest the corn in the field with a combine that removes the kernels from the cob. The drying process is critical when it comes to growing popcorn as moisture is what causes the popcorn to pop once heated.
Specialty farmers who grow popcorn often use special tools to ensure that their crops get to market. A cracked popcorn seed is no longer viable and is unfit for consumption. Using the IGSE VeyWay Grain Bin Conveyor System helps ensure that all of your popcorn seeds are cleared from the bin and taken to market. Combining the VeyWay with a belt conveyor helps protect the crop from damage during transport as well.
Top Popcorn Producing States
Many home gardens can grow popcorn, but most of the popcorn consumed around the world is produced in one of nine Midwest states. These states include Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio. If you are a farmer in one of these key Midwest states, your soil conditions and climate are a good match for growing popcorn.
Popcorn Moisture is Key
As with any crop industry, moisture is an essential part of growing a premium crop. Moisture is especially vital when it comes to popcorn as the moisture inside the kernel is what expands and causes the popcorn to pop inside out. Popcorn should have a moisture content of 13%-14.5% for an ideal pop. Higher moisture content results in chewy and dense popcorn while a lower moisture content can increase the chances that the popcorn never pops at all.
Popcorn became quite popular with Americans during the Great Depression due to it being a cheap way to fill bellies. However, the snack has continued to grow as a favorite, with 90% of sales making up home consumption as opposed to consumption in movie theaters or ball games. It is estimated that the average American eats 45 quarts of popcorn each year!
The way that consumers store popcorn plays a significant role in how the popcorn does once heated. Many consumers may store popcorn in the fridge, which actually reduces its moisture level. While plenty of popcorn lovers use microwave bags of popcorn that are already sealed, many others choose to heat kernels either on the stove or using air poppers. Those who purchase raw kernels increase the likelihood of a good popping ratio when storing them in airtight containers to secure moisture levels.
When discovered, kernels were the only form of popcorn available to consume. With the popularity of microwave popcorn in the 1970s, many Americans have continued to consume the microwave version of this healthy snack.
Due to convenience and busy lifestyles, there has been a growing market for ready to eat (RTE) popcorn in stores. You may have noticed that large bags of popcorn are now commonplace at the grocery store as well as individual snack bags of popcorn. The desire to eat healthy has fueled the RTE popcorn industry. In fact, it is estimated that ready to eat popcorn will stay dominant in the industry through 2023.
Health Benefits of Popcorn
Some may argue that popcorn isn’t very healthy when you slather it in butter; however, there are many ways to enjoy popcorn that are both healthy and tasty.
Popcorn is known for being high in fiber and gluten-free. It naturally has a low-calorie content and is also low in fat. Popcorn often satisfies cravings for chips and other crunchy snacks that are less healthy in comparison. As a whole grain, it is hard to beat the health benefits of popcorn when reaching for a tasty snack.
Common Industry Terms
There are different terms and nicknames in regards to popcorn kernels. Those kernels that don’t end up popping are called “spinsters” or “old maids” due to their lack of moisture. Kernels that don’t pop but do expand in size are called “parchies” and are edible despite being a bit crunchy. A good batch of popcorn should result in at least 98% of kernels popping with 2% or less of spinsters.
Popcorn Industry Market
This unique crop has had solid growth over the past 50 years. While popcorn sales started small back in 1970, the industry has held onto its growth and has a steady incline in recent years. In 2016, the popcorn market was valued at $9,060 million, with a projected market of around $15,000 million by 2023. With a CAGR of 7.6% from 2017 to 2023, it is no wonder more and more farmers are considering planting popcorn this year.
Recent Popcorn Trends
The gourmet popcorn industry has become a huge business in recent years. More and more gourmet popcorn shops have opened, offering unique flavors and varieties of popcorn to savvy consumers. The gourmet popcorn industry is on the verge of reaching $1 billion annually, making it a significant reason why small farmers should consider getting into popcorn.
Growing popcorn on your farm is a great way to increase your crop diversity and get in on this ever-popular snack. Popcorn has proved its reliability as well as its potential growth in the market. As a specialty farmer, popcorn is a great opportunity to grow your farm and keep a steady hand on this growing industry.