Teach Kids to Make Simple Spiced Popcorn

Spices are an essential part of everyday cooking almost everywhere in the world. Not only do they add lots of flavor to both sweet and savory recipes, they help define regional food cultures. And in our October Kitchen Academy box, “The Spice Hunter,” your Little Sous can start exploring the world of spices using something they’re very familiar with: popcorn.

In this month’s core lesson, kids will learn how to make stovetop popcorn (with your supervision, of course) and flavor it with a simple spice blend—or their own custom mix. Making popcorn is also a unique opportunity to teach kids how to use their senses of hearing while cooking—they’ll know their popcorn is ready when the popping slows down.

Here are a few teachable tips from this lesson:

Which came first: the movie or popcorn? Popcorn has been around for a very long time—indigenous people in South and North America have cultivated popcorn for thousands of years. But it became popular in America less than a century ago. During the Great Depression, people didn’t have much money for treats. Popcorn machines were invented and quickly became a popular source for cheap snacks. People would line up to buy it from the street vendors and sneak it into movie theaters. Eventually, the theaters realized how much money there was to be made, and started to sell their own.

The science of popping: Popcorn is a species of corn called Zea mays everta, and is unique in that it has a waterproof shell (called a hull, or “pericarp”). Inside is the starchy “endosperm”—the white stuff that expands when the corn is popped—and a tiny amount of water. When that water is heated to 212°F (the temperature at which water boils), it creates enough steam to break the hull and pop.

Butterfly or mushroom? When a popcorn kernel pops, the white, fluffy “flake” (that’s popcorn lingo) can take one of two shapes: a round “mushroom” or the “butterfly” shape that has irregular “wings.” Both shapes can come from the same cob, but the popcorn you pop at home is usually butterfly (mushroom-shaped popcorn is more sturdy and usually used to make caramel corn and packaged popcorn).

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