Smithsonian Mag goes way back to explain why we eat popcorn at the movies.
About 8,000 years ago, maize was cultivated from teosinte, a wild grass that doesn’t look much like the modern corn we know today. Popcorn — a name mostly associated with puffed kernels of corn — is actually a strain of corn, characterized by especially starchy kernels with hard kernel walls, which help internal pressure build when placed over heat. It was one of the first variations of maize cultivated in Central America. “Popcorn went north and it went south, but as far as I can see, it really only survived in South America,” says Andrew Smith, author of Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn. Eventually, trade and commerce brought the unique kernels northward. “Most likely, North American whalers went to Chile, found varieties of popcorn, picked them up and thought that they were cute, and brought them back to New England in the early 19th century,” Smith explains.