Popcorn: The 5,000 Year Old No Waste Snack

By Liesl Clark

Almost every culture in the world pops its corn. Zea maize, or corn as we know it, is a New World domesticate that spread worldwide over thousands of years.

In rural Nepal, maize is the second most important crop. © Liesl Clark

In rural Nepal, maize is the second most important crop. © Liesl Clark

“The origins of maize can be traced to a grass called teosinte, the grass ancestor of Zea maize, to Meso-America some 6,000 – 7,000 years ago,” explains Dr. Mark Aldenderfer, the archaeologist and principal investigator of the Himalayan Cave People’s project we’re conducting in Nepal. “People started eating corn originally as a grass and over time they selected it for its seeds.”

© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark

Popcorn itself was domesticated in Peru approximately 5,000 years ago and I have yet to come across a culture that doesn’t eat it. We’ve come such a long way in removing ourselves from the age-old process of growing, drying, and storing of corn for popcorn that the closest most of us come to this 5,000 year old snack is to pluck a jar of Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn from the shelves of our grocery stores.

If you buy popcorn kernels in bulk, popped corn is truly an original zero waste snack. But if bulk isn’t an option at your local supermarket, you can buy kernels in glass jars that are recyclable. Here in Nepal, we have popcorn every day at camp as an hors d’oeuvre before dinner. We buy it in bulk at the largest open vegetable market in Kathmandu and carry it with us to the mountains by truck, then jeep, then horse and porter. Buying it from the farmer at the market and then carrying it with us in a bag with all our other bulk grains and vegetables is as close to eating as people did in the Peruvian Late Archaic period as we’ll likely ever get.

Popcorn bought in bulk from Kathmandu's Asan Tole Market. © Liesl Clark

Popcorn bought in bulk from Kathmandu’s Asan Tole Market. © Liesl Clark

The following recipe for popcorn is by Tula Magar, our expedition cook:

Popcorn for 10 people:

Heat 1 Cup olive oil in a large pot.

Heat oil and popcorn kernels over high heat, monitoring it constantly. © Liesl Clark

Heat oil and popcorn kernels over high heat, monitoring it constantly. © Liesl Clark

Pour 3 Cups of popcorn kernels inside the pot and put the cover on!

When the corn begins to pop, shake the pan around periodically to ensure the kernels don’t burn. Be sure to use potholders so you don’t burn your hands.

© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark

When the popping stops, quickly remove the pot from the fire and throw in salt to desired taste. You can also add the salt when you add the oil and it will be evenly spread throughout the popcorn. Tula uses a delicious Tibetan salt.

Tula Magar and Popcorn for 10. © Liesl Clark

Tula Magar and Popcorn for 10. © Liesl Clark

Enjoy!

If you’re interested in some more ideas for zero waste foods, please visit our Trash Backwards app!

Click Through For Food Less Plastic at Trash Backwards

Click Through For Food Less Plastic at Trash Backwards

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3 Comments on “Popcorn: The 5,000 Year Old No Waste Snack”

  1. June 10, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    I grew up eating popcorn made on a stove, its one of my best memories. When microwaves came out and those microwave bags of popcorn I couldn’t stand the smell of them popping or the taste, its just not the same texture at all.

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