And the answer: butterfly.
When corn kernels are popped, there are two possible aesthetic outcomes: "mushroom" popcorn, and "butterfly" popcorn. Mushroom popcorn is primarily round in appearance and is easily coated with butter, sugar, and other delicious toppings. Butterfly popcorn has an irregular shape with many bumps, and is better eaten fresh without much additional coating.
Popcorn is one of the most well-known (and most iconic) snack-foods around, but did you know that humans have been enjoying the popped, salty kernels since around 4700 BC? That’s right—although we’re used to putting pre-made bags into the microwave for three minutes, early popcorn-enjoyers had figured out how to trigger the corn kernels’ “popping” reaction in caves around 10,000 years ago. Popcorn was popular throughout Central and South America for many centuries—so much so that the Aztecs used popcorn to decorate clothes and ceremonial embellishments. In fact, it’s believed that the planting of zea mays everta—the only species of popcorn-producing corn plant—was essential to the growth and expansion of the Aztec Empire.
The first commercial sale of popcorn happened in the 1820s, though at the time it was referred to as “pearls” or “nonpareil.” Popcorn wouldn’t get its recognizable moniker until 1848, when John Russel Bartlett published his Dictionary of Americanisms. In it, Bartlett explains the reason for the name “popcorn”: it is simply the sound it makes when the kernels pop out.
Did you know?
Yesterday was National Popcorn Day! Enjoyment of popcorn grew to a new height in the mid-1800s, when Charles Cretors, a candy-store owner, developed a machine for popping corn with steam. The tasty treat became so abundantly poppable that by 1900, he had horse-drawn popcorn wagons going through the streets of Chicago. Learn more about National Popcorn Day here.