From South America with love

A sample of the popcorn found in Peru. Image: Tom D. Dillehay.

6,700 years ago popcorn irrupted as a popular snack.

A paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that 6,700 years ago people in Peru were eating popcorn. According to Dolores Piperno, curator of New World archaeology at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, the oldest known corncobs, husks, stalks and tassels date from 6,700-3,000 years ago and were found in Paredones and Huaca Prieta, Peru. Her research also suggests that 6,000 years ago South Americans were eating popcorn and corn flour on a regular basis.

Piperno and her team have been following the evolution of different maize species in America. “Corn was first domesticated in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago from a wild grass called teosinte. Our results show that only a few thousand years later corn arrived in South America where its evolution into different varieties that are now common in the Andean region began,” mentioned the researcher in an announcement published on the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute website.

But how did popcorn become the ultimate snack? Well, it all began in the US in the 1840s. Popcorn was sold in fairs and festivals, but it was until 1885, after the invention of the first portable popcorn machine by Charles Cretors, that popcorn became a popular treat. Popcorn sellers eventually left the fairs and parked their carts outside movie theatres. Although some movie theatre owners weren’t happy with the idea, the really smart ones invited the vendors inside and made a small profit out of every popcorn bag sold.

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