In some Native American folklore, it was believed that corn kernels were inhabited by spirits. When the kernels were heated, the spirits grew angry and burst out of their homes in a puff of steam. We now know that the secret of popcorn lies inside its hull.
Sweet corn, which is bred for sweetness and tenderness, is primarily grown for eating off the cob, or for canning and freezing.
Popcorn kernels are distinguished by a very hard exterior shell covering a soft, starchy center. The white starchy mass that is popcorn appears when the kernels explode and turn inside out.
Why Popcorn Pops
Unlike regular corn, the hull of a popcorn kernel is non-porous and traps steam when heated. When the steam creates enough pressure, the kernel explodes.
Differences in Harvesting
Sweet corn is harvested when the kernels are at their peak tenderness. Popcorn, however, is not harvested until the plant turns brown. The moisture in the ear needs to be less than 25 percent in order for the corn to pop properly, according to Jones Popcorn.
Popcorn and sweet corn should not be planted together in the same home garden, says the Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plant Products, because if they shed pollen at the same time, the sweet corn's quality may be compromised.
- Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Hey Paul