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AGRICULTURE REPORT - July 9, 2002: Popcorn - 2002-07-08

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Americans love popcorn. They eat it at home, at sports events, and in movie theaters. Popcorn has smaller pieces or kernels than other kinds of corn. The kernels have a hard outside shell and a soft center. When the kernels are heated, the outside shells burst. The soft centers expand and become filled with air. The resulting popcorn looks like small, white balls of cotton.

Corn grows on the parts of the plant commonly called “ears.” Corn, including popcorn, was developed in North and South America thousands of years ago.The oldest ears of popcorn were discovered in the American state of New Mexico. They were reported to be more than five-thousand years old. In Peru, scientists discovered one-thousand-year-old popcorn kernels in a human burial area.

Early explorers to the Americas were the first Europeans to see popcorn. Four hundred years ago, French explorers saw members of the Iroquois native American tribe make popcorn with heated sand in a clay container. They said the Iroquois used popcorn to make a liquid food, or soup.

The Europeans who settled in North America loved popcorn. Some colonial families ate popcorn with sugar and milk for their first meal of the day.

In the United States, popcorn became very popular during the first part of the twentieth century. Large and small businesses sold popcorn wherever crowds gathered.

Today, the United States produces almost all of the world’s popcorn. Farmers must choose the right time to harvest popcorn. It is best to delay harvesting until the corn is fully developed. However, farmers also must guard against corn plants falling down or becoming too wet.

American farmers use machines to pick the ears of corn from the plants. After picking, the corn must be dried. There are different ways to dry and store popcorn for future use. Some growers like natural air-drying. Others use large machines.

After drying, the corn is taken to a processing center. Machines remove the kernels from the ears. Separators and other equipment remove damaged kernels or other material. Then, the kernels are sent through machines that clean them. After that, the popcorn is prepared to be sent to stores.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.