Popcorn 101: Where Do Popcorn Kernels Come From?


On the first sound of “pop” are you excited to meet the freshly popped corns? Can’t wait for the hot bowl of buttery popcorns to come in your hands? Well, while eating the crunchy snack, do you often end up thinking, “Where do popcorn kernels come from?” This question is not as dumb as you think it to be and the answer is definitely not from your microwave or a movie theater.

Popcorn Corn Plant: Zea Mays Everta


Moreover, do you know that corns that are grown for popcorn differ from field corn (used for processing or cornmeal) and sweet corn (generally used for eating)? Well, maybe you might also think that the popcorn seeds do come from dried corn kernels. But if you have ever experimented like me, you must have known that drying out the popcorn seeds does not make them pop and they end up sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Still thinking what makes the corns pop? Well, the answer is the seed. The popcorn kernels come from only one variety of Maize known as Zea mays everta (the plant). While this may look like the sweet corns, only Zea mays var. everta (a.k.a popcorn) have the ability to pop and turn a bowl of seeds into a delicious snack.

Also, check out this post for the best popcorn kernels for your every occasion treats.

Where Do Popcorn Kernels Come From?

Popcorn plant (Zea mays everta) is a Native American Plant that is grown only for its taste and amazingly delicious exploding kernels. Farmers grew two type of popcorn, namely:

  • Pearl
  • Rice

While the pearl popcorn has round kernels, rice popcorn has an elongated kernel. If you choose to grow sweet corn and popcorn in the same garden, the results may disappoint because of cross-pollination. This will results in poor quality sweet corns and yield a high percentage of unpopped kernels. It takes about 100 days or more for a popcorn plant to mature and a single plant yield one or two ears while one ear yield one serving of popcorn.

Is Popcorn Made From Sweet Corn?

Is popcorn made from sweet corn? Another common question that people are often confused about. The answer is no. Corns are generally grouped into four categories.

Ornamental corns

Ornamental corns are often used for decoration to celebrate Halloween or compliment the autumn hues. They are derived from pop type corn and have smaller ears which are suitable for indoors.

Sweet corn

Sweet corn is a vegetable used in a number of recipes and soups. These corns are picked up at immature state, often known as milk stage. Therefore, rather than being starchy, they are sweet.


Popcorns are unique as they contain starchy endosperm, which expands when heated and pops the corn inside out. This type of corn is hard and possess moisture resistant hull. It is a whole grain.

Field corns

Field corns can be flint type or dent type. They are hard shelled and used for animal feed. They are also consumed in the form of corn meal or polenta. Moreover, while picking up, make sure the label says whole grain corn.

How do Corn Cross Pollinate?

Now that you know, “where do popcorn seeds come from?” Let’ proceed to know how do the corns cross pollinate. The process of pollination takes place with the help of the wind as it swirls around the fine dust thus promoting cross pollination. While some corns are self-pollinating, a majority of them rely on other plants standing next to them for pollination.

So if you have been thinking, “Can corn cross pollinate?” the answer is yes. A major variety of pop corns crosses pollinate easily. However, the end result may not be as productive as the parent plant. The hybrid strains produce less or no kernels and dilute over time, resulting in poorly cultivated plants.

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Growing Conditions of Popcorn


To grow a corn, the plant needs full sun and well-drained soil. Before planting the seeds, work a 2-inch to 4-inch layer of compost and spread the fertilizer over the soil. You need to water the soil thoroughly to make the plant grown. Also, try to pick up a location that has easy access to irrigation system as popcorn plant needs plenty of water to grow.

Moreover, while planting the seed, make sure to grow the plant in groups as this will ensure good pollination. If the seeds are planted at a distance, the plant may result in poorly filled or no kernels, while growing the corn in several short rows will result in well-filled ears.

Growing Your Own Popcorn

Still not convinced? Well to know more about where do popcorn kernels come from, you can choose to grow your own popcorn plant. This can be as interesting as eating it. You can follow this step by step guide to plant and harvest popcorn plant.

  • Begin by planting the seeds one inch deep in the soil, in four or five short rows at a distance of approximately 36 inches to ensure pollination.
  • When the plant reaches a height of five inches, reduce their distance to 12 inches.Make sure to fertilize the crop lightly in midsummer to give them an added boost.
  • Make sure to fertilize the crop lightly in midsummer to give them an added boost.
  • ​Hill the crop up six inches when the stalks are knee-high. This step adds support and nutrients to the plant.
  • ​Before harvesting the crop, make sure the husk covering the ears have turned brown.
  • Harvest the ears and shuck them before letting them dry for a few weeks.
  • ​Later the kernels can be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
  • ​Just pop the kernels and enjoy a tub of delicious salty, buttered popcorn that has less than 100 calories. Here is a movie theater popcorn recipe you can try.

Folklore: What Make the Corn Pop?


According to popular North American tribe folklore, spirits dwelled within a kernel of popcorn. The spirits were happy, quiet and content with their own lives, but they become violent when their houses were heated.

The hotter their homes became, the angrier they were. Finally, they would burst out of their house into the air as an annoyed puff of stream. This is the reason people believed that popcorn popped when heated beyond a specific temperature.

Well, joke aside. We know that there is no spirit reside in the kernels. The fact is that, popcorn pop because of water present in each kernel. The water is stored in the middle of a kernel which is surrounded by a hard outer surface.

When the kernel heats up, the water expands and pressure begins to build up. Eventually, the hard surface is not able to withhold the pressure and the corn explodes. The soft starch becomes inflated and turns the kernel inside out. As the steam releases, the corn is popped.

Popcorns Are As Healthy As Vegetables

If you love eating and making popcorns at home while unwinding by watching an amazing movie on Friday night, this is for you. Popcorns are as healthy as your vegetables, but it depends on how you choose to pop it.

When prepared with the right ingredients, popcorn is a heart smart, low in calories and full of healthy ingredient snack. Popcorn consists of an antioxidant substance known as polyphenols, often found in fruits and vegetables. This antioxidant is linked to reduce heart diseases and keep certain kind of cancers at bay.

Popcorn is also a great source of fiber and is a low calorie snack. So, if you want to avail all the benefits, grab naked air popped popcorns. This diet friendly snack comes loaded with just 30 calories per cup as compared to whopping 150 calories that potato chips come loaded with.

Popcorn On The Cob Recipe

Now that you know where do popcorn kernels come from, wouldn’t it be great if you can leave all the hard work of getting the kernels off the cob and pop the corns on the cob? If you are eager to know how to pop the corn on the cob, here’s a quick video:


  • Butter
  • Corn
  • ​Two brown paper bags (from McDonald’s. lol)
  • Microwave


Remove the silks from the corn and slather on some butter. Evenly cover the cob with butter and place it in a paper bag. Tightly close the paper bag before throwing the bag into the second paper bag. Both the bottom ends of the bags must face in a separate direction. Put the bag in the microwave and microwave it for 4 minutes at 50% to 70% power.

If you are interested in making movie theater styled popcorns at home, here’s the recipe.

Growing Your Own Corns

I hope this article has helped you get an answer for where do popcorn seeds come from question. Add fiber to your diet by including a cup of air popped popcorn. Substitute high-calorie greasy food with a cup of delicious popcorn and keep your weight in control.

Moreover, now that you know what kind of corn is popcorn and where do popcorn kernels come from, try growing your own corns and enjoy eating a healthy snack while watching a movie or when you crave for it.

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