What Are the Different Types of Popcorn?

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What Are the Different Types of Popcorn?
Popcorn could possibly be one of the oldest snack foods in the world. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Popcorn is possibly one of the oldest snack foods in the world, having been documented as early as the 16th century by Spanish explorers. It was used by the Aztecs of Central and South America as both a food and for decorative purposes. The oldest popcorn was found in Bat Cave, New Mexico, and is thought to be around 4,000 years old, making popcorn a snack with history.

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Popcorn is a type of corn where the hard seed, or kernel, can be popped. This happens because popcorn has a higher moisture content than other types of corn. When the kernel is heated, the moisture inside it expands and builds pressure against that hard shell, or hull, of the kernel. This pressure eventually causes the hull to give way as the soft starch inside it expands and pops, essentially turning the kernel inside out.

Types of Popcorn

There are many different varieties of popcorn, but they can all be grouped into two main types: butterfly and mushroom. Butterfly-type popcorn produces the big, fluffy kernels used in theatre popcorn. Mushroom type popcorn produces kernels that are more dense, round and crunchy than butterfly popcorn. Because of its robustness, mushroom popcorn is used in caramel corn and for candy coating because it is less likely to break apart through cooking and handling.

Popcorn Varieties

Butterfly popcorn comes in many different varieties, the most commonly available of which are yellow and white. White popcorn produces fluffier kernels than yellow and has a milder corn taste. There also are blue, red and purple-black popcorn varieties, which each have their own distinct flavours. Mushroom popcorn varieties are less tender than butterfly and have a stronger corn taste. They are usually sold as ready-to-eat snacks because they hold up better during transport.

Hulless Popcorn

Some people are not very fond of the hull that remains on the popped corn, and so some brands of popcorn may be advertised as hulless. In fact, all popcorn varieties have hulls. The hulless varieties have smaller hulls, so they aren't as noticeable as they are in other types. It also is possible to pop rice and other grains in a similar manner of popcorn to make a crunchy, hulless replacement if you can't stand popcorn hulls.

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