There is no question that Americans love popcorn. On average, we each consume more than 65 quarts of it each year in movie theaters, at country fairs, and in our own living rooms. We make it in specially made air poppers, in the microwave or the old fashioned way on the stove. We buy it already popped, candied, and in a variety of unusual flavors and we even use it to make garland to hang up during the holidays. There is no question that popcorn has a place in our culture’s snack food hall of fame but this year, it is popping up in some unusual and even unfamiliar places.
Across the food industry, popcorn is being touted as the hottest snack of the year. In a recent foodiecast from the American Farm Bureau, Zack Honeycut, popcorn farmer and the AFB’s Young Farmer and Rancher Chairman explained why these common kernels are popping up in new ways on store shelves and on the menus of upscale restaurants. He attributes some of the trend to our desire for healthier eating habits. Popcorn is a whole grain that is high in fiber and low in calories. In fact, you can eat three cups of air popped popcorn and get an entire serving of whole grains for less than 100 calories. When compared to other snack foods, popcorn, in its plain, unflavored, unsalted, unbuttered form, stands out as a healthier option.
This is one reason that popcorn is showing up in new places. Honeycut notes that popcorn bars are replacing candy and cupcake bars as the first choice for wedding receptions and popcorn chips are finding their place next to the potato chips and corn chips on supermarket shelves. Manufacturers are also featuring new flavors, moving beyond the different varieties of butter-flavoring that have been our popcorn staple for almost a generation.
Popcorn’s hot trend status doesn’t stop at the grocery store door. Chefs at restaurants across the country are populating their menus with unusually flavored popcorns like black truffle and wasabi. Chefs are also using the healthy snack to add a lower calorie crunch to their signature soups and salads.
Popcorn has long held one of the lower spots on the snack food hierarchy. It wasn’t as cool as other snacks like potato chips in a can or corn chips that taste like cheese. It didn’t have the sweetness of candy or the creaminess of chocolate to make it a sought after treat. It was never rare or expensive enough to lift it up from its humble beginnings.
But as our society changes so do the things we value and when it comes to popcorn, it is easy to understand why it is now popcorn’s turn to shine. As families tighten their belts and seek to shrink their waistlines, the low cost that made popcorn a favorite during the last financial crisis paired with its nutritional value and low calorie count make it the perfect snack for 2013.
- 3 Tips to Help Start Your Day the Healthy Way (fillyourplate.org)
- National Popcorn Day Pops on the Calendar (fillyourplate.org)
- 8 Great Ways to Celebrate National Tortilla Chip Day (fillyourplate.org)