Popcorn is the all-American snack.
American Indians were eating it when Columbus arrived. We eat it at the movies, at the circus, at the fairgrounds, at amusement parks. Numbers-keepers now say we're wolfing it down at the rate of 60 quarts per person per year. That's about 15 billion quarts -- nearly a billion pounds.
Popcorn conjures up images that are warm and comforting, homey and cozy, as well as fun and festive.
It also brings to mind such fads as the flavored popcorns of the early '80s. Those flavors, hundreds of them -- ranging from bubble gum to pizza, from fruit cocktail to jalapeno -- filled bins in stores across the country.
It was a natural. Those crunchy, yet soft, puffs of corn are so receptive to flavors. Unfortunately, many of the flavors were artificial. And the combinations were so out of tune with good food combinations.
The latest addition at the retail level has been a diet popcorn. The Ultra Slim-Fast product screams "only 60 calories" and "50 percent less fat" on its glistening foil packaging. That's 60 calories in the half-ounce (a bit more than a cup) that costs 79 cents retail.
What they don't tell you on the label is that the popcorn you pop at home has only about 25 calories to a cup of plain, air-popped corn and about 40 calories if you use oil or butter. If you drizzle butter on it after popping, it comes to about 100 calories per
cup. For the record, that 79 cents will buy you two pounds of popping corn in most supermarkets. The diet popcorn is vitamin fortified, however.
Apart from the long-popular caramel-coated popcorn, none of the candylike, fruity, savory or spiced popcorns have been big hits.