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Up until today I only knew about one type of corn for popcorn. Searching for Peruvian food I found out that in Peru there are different "popcorn" varieties.

So that made me think: is it possible to make popcorn with just any variety of corn? If not, what properties do these corn varieties have that allow then to be popped and not any others?

  • related : cooking.stackexchange.com/q/17692/67 – Joe Apr 5 at 14:11
  • I think it's different enough to not be considered a duplicate. – Jordan Reiter Apr 5 at 14:20
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    not duplicate, because I know where I can get corn for popcorn, I want to know what makes it different from the other types of corn. – Luciano Apr 5 at 15:47
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    @JordanReiter : just trying to track related stuff. But I seem to remember there being a question from someone who lived on a farm who was trying to make popcorn from it, which is closer, but I couldn't find it. There's this one, though : cooking.stackexchange.com/a/24747/67 – Joe Apr 5 at 22:01
  • You can do it with mustard seeds though. – MJD Apr 8 at 11:45
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The answer it seems is - no, you can't just use any variety of corn. It seems that you need in particular a hard shell around the kernel that is not present in sweetcorn varieties.

I also suspect that it is harder to make than one might imagine, you need a specific percentage of water in the kernel to get it to pop - this is why you can't store unpopped popcorn in the open and once opened needs to be used within a few months, as the water will evaporate and eventually the percentage will become too low to effectively pop.

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    You should know that if your popcorn dries out, you can put it in a large glass jar, add a few teaspoons of water, shake it around, and place it in the fridge for a while. The popcorn will eventually absorb all the water and can make decent (although not as good as fresh) popcorn again. – Jordan Reiter Apr 5 at 13:59
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    Nice, I've never heard of doing that. I'll have to try it some time. – bob1 Apr 5 at 14:03
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    I learned it from The Popcorn Book. :) My parents read it to me when I was a kid and it stuck in my head. When I had a kid I got the book to read to him. It's really a very satisfying book. – Jordan Reiter Apr 5 at 14:10
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    I'll have to look it up. Tomie de Paola is a favorite in our house too, as is popcorn. – bob1 Apr 5 at 15:07
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    @David Richerby, yes but the percentage of poppable corn decreases over time, especially with repeated openings of containers. I guess it depends on the relative humidity too; in dry climates they'll not last as long as in more humid climates. It'll also depend on the volume - a big bag will be more poppable for longer as there is more corn to dry out. – bob1 Apr 5 at 16:28
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It's a children's book, but The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola is actually a very comprehensive summary on the history and science of popcorn.

Popcorn pops because the kernels contain small amounts of moisture which, when heated, cook the starches inside the popcorn, causing them to rapidly expand and exploding out the kernel. (This is my basic understanding; I'm sure food scientist will have a more comprehensive explanation).

What this means is that popcorn has to have a few specific features:

  • it must have some internal moisture
  • it must have a hard outer shell holding in that moisture
  • it must not be too moist

I imagine all varieties of "sweet corn", the type used for corn on the cob, would probably not work very well. I don't think it would dry very well, and I think the shell would be weak (a feature when marketing it as something for humans to consume)

Dent corn, the variety used for animal feed, would also probably not work very well. It is a tough kernel and I don't think it would have enough moisture to explode.

I very well could be wrong about this, but I doubt that popping these other types (and I'm sure there are many more) would make for good popcorn.

Interestingly, there are other grains which also pop very well, including sorghum and amaranth.

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    Good answer. I really must try the other grains some time too. – bob1 Apr 5 at 14:04
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    and from what I read on Peruvian food you can also pop quinoa – Luciano Apr 5 at 15:50
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    It's steam from the moisture boiling (rather than the starches) that cause the pop. – David Richerby Apr 5 at 16:16
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    Popped millet is popular in some countries. – Tim Nevins Apr 5 at 17:03
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    If you read the full article about "other grains which pop ..." the author says that they don't really pop like popcorn, they just "puff up a little". I think I'll stick with popcorn. – John Pankowicz Apr 6 at 17:19
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No, you need popping corn. Popcorn works because

  • it contains the right kind of starch;
  • it has a hard husk that is quite waterproof;
  • it contains the right amount of moisture (14–20%, according to Wikipedia).

When you cook the corn, the water turns to steam, and the husk stops the steam escaping until the pressure builds up enough to make the kernel explode and the starch turn to a solid foam.

The other kinds of corn (dent, flint, flour, pod and sweet corns) don't have the right combinations of starch, husk and moisture to pop properly. For example, sweet corn has a soft husk and is picked while it still contains a relatively large amount of sugar that hasn't been converted to starch. Dent and flour corns have lots of starch but it's the wrong kind.

10

My grandparents were Western Nebraska farmers who grew corn (and other things.) Most was "field corn" which is suitable only for livestock feed. Some was sweet corn, which is for humans. Grandma used to make what she called "parched corn." Sweet corn was dried out by pulling the husks back and hanging the ears down by tacking the husks to the side of the shed. When the kernels were shriveled, she shelled them (that is, pulled them off the cob) and treated them like popcorn.

She popped pop corn by heating oil in cast iron skillet and stirring. So she did the same thing to the dried sweet corn. It didn't pop, per se, but the kernels became spherical and crunchy. With a little salt, it was a great snack.

So, while you can't pop any kind of corn, you can still try, and what you get is still a treat. I've always meant to try to reproduce this, but I've never gotten around to trying. So YMMV.

8

In Bolivia we have this kind of giant popcorn, called "Pasankalla":

enter image description here

I do not know what type of corn is used to create it, but obviously is not the same one used to create ordinary popcorn.

Bon appetit!

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    Pasankalla IS the type of corn – Aethenosity Apr 5 at 21:48

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