What Type of Corn is Used for Popcorn?

  • Author: Sue Dorrens
  • Published: November 17, 2022
  • Time to read: 7 min.

It’s a weekend ritual – getting comfy on the sofa, the TV control, a cushion, and your bowl of popcorn ready to watch the latest movie release on Netflix or the latest episode of your favorite show. But, as you mindlessly munch away on the popcorn, have you ever stopped to wonder what type of corn it is? I know I have! Is it the same as sweetcorn? Can you make popcorn with any kind of corn? Let’s find out.

Which Corn is Used for Popcorn?

The sound of the kernels hitting the bottom of your cooking pot, the quiet interlude before the anticipated popping, the change from inedible to edible – it’s all quite mesmerizing. When will that first pop be? As you pour them in, you may not have cast a second thought to where the little grains of magic come from. Sure, they’re corn kernels, right? But not all corn is the same.

Popcorn kernels are a special kind of corn that’s cultivated specifically for popping. The Zea mays type of corn is used, particularly the everta variety. Zea mays everta is a type of flint corn, so named because of its hard outer hull.

Inside the grain, the starch is almost entirely hard. This is why popcorn kernels are so tough if you get one stuck in your teeth! However, when you heat it, the starch inside becomes softer. The pressure of the steam inside the hard kernel is what causes it to pop through the tough outer hull. With its name origin coming from the word “evert,” Zea mays everta basically means “corn turned inside out.”

Is Popcorn Sweetcorn or Field Corn?

The corn variety used for popcorn is usually Zea mays everta. So, to answer the question “is popcorn sweet corn or field corn?” the answer really is “neither!”

Sweet corn (as the name suggests!) is sweet and is actually a vegetable with a high sugar content rather than a grain. In the summer, it fills the produce aisle with its yellow deliciousness partially hidden by the husks. This is when it’s at its most flavorsome before the sugar quickly changes to starch after it’s harvested. The rest of the year, you’ll find it in tin cans and frozen in packets.

Field corn, on the other hand, is mainly used as animal feed. Many people know field corn by the name “dent corn” due to the dent that forms at the top of the kernel as it dries. Field corn is also used to make corn starch, corn syrup and corn meal.

Popcorn is neither of these – not the sweet vegetable nor the dented grain. In fact, popcorn is considered a whole grain in itself.

Check out article 101 interesting facts about popcorn next.

Can all Corn be Turned into Popcorn?

Corn is the most produced grain in the entire world, with 1,207 million metric tons produced in 2021/22. It’s filled with nutrients no matter if it’s in grain or vegetable form. That said, can all corn be turned into popcorn?

Many argue that, yes, all corn can be popped. Others disagree. With so many varieties of corn available, it is difficult to know the answer to this question unless you tried them all! That being said, most popcorn is made with the Zea mays everta variety for a reason – you just don’t get the same quality, taste, and, importantly, ‘pop’ from other varieties of corn.

Corn kernels that pop need to have been thoroughly dried and hardened. This way, the outer hull is strong enough to withstand the pressure of the expanding steam inside it when it’s cooking. Only when it reaches a certain pressure does it “pop” through the outer casing creating the delicious snack that we know and love.

Corn distributors are very choosy when it comes to the corn they use for popping. They dry and even polish the corn kernels before shipping them off to ensure that they pop evenly and simultaneously.

If you took some regular ears of field corn, you could still make it pop. You’d find that only a few grains would actually pop. They’d happily swell and become more edible and softer because the moisture inside would still heat up and cause the grain to expand. But this wouldn’t technically be popcorn. It’d still make a great snack, though!

Can you Make Popcorn with Sweet Corn?

can sweetcorn be made into popcorn

Imagine you’re at the grocery store on the hunt for some popcorn as a snack. You can’t find any popping corn anywhere, but the veggie aisle has some sweet corn. Can you make it pop at home so that you can create your favorite snack? You’d think that it’d be easy, but actually, it doesn’t really work.

First up, the corn kernels need to be dried and hard. Regular sweetcorn isn’t ever really produced to end up like that. You want your sweet corn to be sweet and juicy, right?

Also, the corn grain needs to have a certain percentage of moisture within its dried shell. Otherwise, there’s not going to be enough to create steam and pressure that cause the grain to pop.

If you’re looking to experiment with corn and popping, sweet corn isn’t the best choice. You should enjoy sweet corn for its juicy, tender sweetness fresh from the cob (or can!) as that’s when it’s at its best. Sweet corn should certainly stick to what it does best!

Can you Dry Corn to Make Popcorn?

We all know that popcorn kernels are dry and hard. So, this question is an interesting one: can you dry the corn yourself to make popcorn?

In essence, yes, you can! If you’ve got a little veg plot in your yard, growing and harvesting some popcorn is a great idea. Nevertheless, you can’t just pop it straight from the plot when it’s fresh. Firstly, you should leave the corn cobs to stay on their stalks for as long as possible until the husks and kernels seem to be dry.

You should be harvesting the corn when their husk tassels start to turn darker. If you’re expecting a torrential downpour of rain, though, harvest them anyway and dry them artificially. To harvest the corn, you need to cut the corn cobs and leave an extra bit of stalk, removing the tassels and outer husks.

When they’re harvested, they can be dried in a spot that is kept free from any rodent pests! The corn stalk will turn brown as will the husks and the corn kernels will be hard. Now it’s time to dry out the kernels properly. You can do this in three ways:

  • Use a dehydrator
  • Air dry
  • Oven dry

Each method has its own merits and level of difficulty.

Dehydrators

dehydrating corn

To use a dehydrator, you spread out the harvested kernels on the tray so that air can circulate. Usually, you set the dehydrator’s temperature to 130°F and set it for about 10 minutes before checking whether the kernels have dried.

To check whether the kernels are dry, you should touch them to check if they feel leathery or slightly sticky. If so, they’re ready to go. You can then store them in air-tight containers until you’re ready to pop them. This is probably the easiest drying method as it’s pretty quick.

Air Drying

When airdrying, you need to hang up your corn cobs by the stems. You can drill a little hole through it and pop a piece of string or wire through the hole and then hang it up somewhere warm with good ventilation. It doesn’t have to be dark – anywhere will do. And then you wait!

You can test a few kernels from your corn each week to check whether it’s ready. Once the kernels are popping well, you can take them down and store them.

Oven Dry

Oven-drying popcorn kernels is another popular choice.

  • First, set your oven to about 300°F and remove any husks. The corn kernels should then be removed from the cobs either by a sheller or by hand using your thumb.
  • They should be placed spread out in a layer on a baking tray or in a roasting pan.
  • Lower the oven temperature to the lowest possible setting and put the tray in and leave it for about five hours, giving them a stir every hour or so.
  • Turn off the oven after this time but don’t remove the kernels yet. Leave them in the oven overnight.
  • Once they’re dry you can then store the kernels (they can last up to 30 months) or pop them straight away!

To store the kernels, you need to keep them in a cool, dry place. They should also be stored in an air-tight container since the moisture content of kernels is essential for them to pop correctly. If they get too dry or too wet, they won’t pop!

The Takeaway

Whether you grow it yourself or buy kernels ready to pop, the best corn type for popcorn has to be the Zea mays everta variety. Anything else just isn’t as up to the job! Popcorn is a great snack and is suitable for most diets. But it’s really at its best when you use the right kind of corn!

Check our article on 5 popcorn recipes you probably have not tried.

Sources

https://www.gbif.org/species/144106347

https://www.statista.com/statistics/263977/world-grain-production-by-type/

https://popcornbistro.com/how-to-dry-corn-for-popcorn/

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