F arm fresh popcorn, like all six types of corn, is a whole grain and originates from a wild grass. The scientific name is zea mays everta, and it is the only type of corn to actually pop! Most of our nation's popcorn is grown in the corn belt states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio, but it can be grown all over the United States.
Here’s where my story starts! I’ve recently transplanted to the big city of Nashville, Tennessee, from the small town of Milton, Wisconsin. Before I made the move, I completed my undergraduate degree in Dietetics from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. I moved to Nashville to complete the Dietetic Internship Program at Vanderbilt, in hopes of someday pursuing a career as a sports dietitian. My love for food, nutrition and athletics developed at a young age and has remained my passion.
I grew up working on my Aunt Lucy’s produce farm where she grew everything from strawberries to watermelons, potatoes to squash, onions to kohlrabi, and sweet corn to popcorn. My affinity for locally grown popcorn stems from a family holiday tradition of eating Aunt Lucy’s famous, farm-fresh, home-made caramel popcorn. I’ve searched farmers' markets in the area and have yet to find farm-fresh popcorn for popping! Although I can find popcorn on the shelves of commercial grocery stores, nothing compares to the feeling of love and comfort while eating farm-fresh, locally-grown popcorn.
Popcorn is planted in early spring and remains on the stalk until early fall. Popcorn reaches maturity when the stalk and leaves are brown and dry, the kernel is hard, and a “black layer,” easily found by scratching away the tip of the kernel, is formed. This layer signals that the kernel is no longer requiring nutrition from the plant. Popcorn is usually harvested when the kernel has a moisture content of 16%-20%. It’s this moisture content within the kernel which allows the popcorn kernel to pop when heated.
For those who enjoy farm-fresh popcorn as a snack, air popped is the healthiest way to prepare the corn. Three cups of air-popped popcorn has only 93 calories, 1 gram of fat, 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein–low calorie and is heart healthy! Since popcorn is a whole grain, it’s a great snack to have because the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that half your grains be whole.
According to The Popcorn Board, the average American eat 56 quarts of popcorn annually. As an enticement for local farmers to consider growing popcorn, the 6.3 million people living in Tennessee are potentially sourcing 350 million quarts of popcorn from places around the United States. I’ll continue searching for locally grown popcorn in Nashville! In the meantime, I wanted to share with you a recipe for popcorn from the north; Dairy-Free Cheezy Popcorn (Yeasty Pop). In addition, I've also included an inexpensive and easy way to make air-popped popcorn.