How Did Popcorn Get Its Name

How Did Popcorn Get Its Name

Feb 13, 2024Mark Midwin

Popcorn has been a beloved snack for over thousands of years. When we look throughout history, we can find traces of popcorn dating all the way back to the early Aztecs, almost 5,000 years ago. Throughout time, popcorn has appeared again and again in various cultures and countries, appearing as a snack, a paste, a form of Christmas decorating, and even a breakfast food! Yet where did the name popcorn come up? And what different names has it gone under in the past?

Origin of the Naming of Popcorn

According to dictionaries, the name popcorn, quite literally “popping corn” came much later than the snack itself. It is difficult to pin down the exact inventor of the name, as the word popcorn did not appear published anywhere until 1848. In John Russel Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms, he includes the name popcorn, accrediting it to “the noise it makes on busting open.” Whether he came up with the name himself, or if it was a local household name before that, the name stuck. More dictionaries and public presses began to acknowledge the term “popcorn”, such as the Knickerbocker and the Yale Literary Magazine and it later began being used in advertising.

Before the name popcorn, kernels were sold in the 1820s under various names such as “pearls” or “nonpareils”, meaning “sweet round pellets.” Over time, nonpareils became associated with a different branch of candy, rather sweet chocolates covered in round sprinkles.

In Western Mexico, from Sonora to Jalisco, residents appeared to also take inspiration from the popping kernels. They had a different type of popcorn, which they titled “maiz reventador” or “exploder corn.” This corn was grown in tall fields, possessing tiny kernels and narrow leaves, and was used in popcorn balls, popcorn brittles, and pinole. Pinole was a popular meal prepared by popping kernels, mashing them into a powder, and preparing them with sugar, cinnamon, and other flavors.

One of the earliest recorded recipes for popping corn was written by Daniel Browne in 1840. Although he doesn’t use the name “popcorn”, he describes placing corn on a frying pan, shaking it slowly over a fire, and waiting for it to pop. His recipe was perfected by others in the years to come, leading to the eventual invention of popcorn poppers and microwave popcorn.

Overall, popcorn has traveled with us throughout the years, appearing under various different names and forms, but still remaining a classic snack staple. Celebrate the history of popcorn today by enjoying a fresh bag of America’s Favorite Gourmet Popcorn. We’ll be sure to satisfy your cravings. To learn more about popcorn and its variations, check out our other blogs today! At America’s Favorite, we know our popcorn!

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