Sunday, March 25, 2012

SNACKS - Popcorn (Pipoca)

It's commonly known that corn (or maize) was first cultivated for food by native American Indians centuries before the arrival of European explorers in the Western Hemisphere. Corn (Zea mays) was first domesticated in what is today the country of Mexico sometime between 12,000 and 7,500 years ago, and cultivation of corn had spread both northward and southward from there among tribes settled in North and in South America long before Columbus began the process of European colonization in 1492.

What might be less well known is the fact that the Amerindian natives not only ate roasted and boiled ears of corn and dried corn ground into meal, they also, just like today's Cineplex movie-goers, loved popcorn. When and where this eating habit began is totally unknown, but wherever it was, the first time that someone let corn cook too long and it began to explode in the fire must have been a shocking and scary experience. However, the Amerindians soon learned that the explosion that creates popcorn creates a lovely, tasty snack, and by the time Europeans rolled up on these shores, the natives had a serious popcorn habit. A habit which the Europeans picked up as quickly and as permanently as smoking tobacco.

The Portuguese word for popcorn is pipoca (pip-OH-ka). It comes from the native Tupi language, an indication that the food predates Europeans in Brazil. Pipoca is one of Brazil's favorite snack foods, and it hasn't been relegated to cinema and home-theatre fare to the degree it has in North America. Cinema popcorn is available in Brazil, though a much smaller percentage of moviegoers in Brazil eat popcorn than in North America, and the portions are much, much smaller. Most Brazilians, anecdotal evidence would indicate, still buy popcorn freshly popped from street vendors - in parks, on promenades and during fairs and festivals. The vendors' popcorn stands are usually on wheels so they can move about in search of trade, and the popcorn is made the old-fashioned way, in a pot with a small amount of oil to aid the popping process. The popcorn is sold directly from the stand, either salted or with a caramel coating. A bag of popcorn normally costs about R$1, which is USD$0.55.

There is a second form of popcorn in Brazil, which we've not seen anywhere else. It's affectionately known as pipoca de isopor, meaning "styrofoam popcorn." This product is not made on the spot, but instead prepared industrially and sold pre-bagged. It's really not popped corn - a better name would be puffed corn. The process used on the corn kernels is similar to that used on rice and wheat to make puffed cereals like Rice Krispies and Puffed Wheat. The kernel retains its shape, it just expands and becomes airy. Pipoca de isopor is an acquired taste - many people dislike it intensely, though for many Brazilians it is a nostalgic snack, bringing back memories of childhood.

Brazilians don't eat anything like the 58 quarts per person that Americans consume annually on a per capita basis. But their love for this ancient native food miracle is intense, and it continues to pass from generation to generation as it has in this country for many millennia.

3 comments:

  1. I wondered why my half American half Brazilian daughter loves pipoca so much!

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  2. Yup, pipoca de isopor is definitely nostalgic (and not to everyone's taste). I've found that Sugar Puffs and rice cakes remind me of them even though they are made from different grains.

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  3. The "Pipoca de isopor" is a creation from Argentina, it's called "tutuca" in this country and was created by "Alcides Ernesto Klenzy" from Cordoba, Argentina. In the next links you can find more information, http://www.mundotutuca.com/
    (only in spanish)
    Greetings

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