A popcorn maker (also called a popcorn popper) is a machine used to pop popcorn. Since ancient times popcorn has been a popular snack food, produced through the explosive expansion of kernels of heated corn (maize). Commercial large-scale popcorn machines were invented by Charles Cretors in the late 19th century. Many types of small-scale home methods for popping corn also exist.
Commercial popcorn machines are commonly found in movie theaters and carnivals, producing popcorn in a pan of hot oil, which has approximately 45% of its calories derived from fat. Hot air popcorn poppers appeared for home use in the late 1970s, which produce popcorn with only 5% of its calories derived from fat. The majority of popcorn sold for home consumption is now packaged in a microwave popcorn bag for use in a microwave oven.
The original method used to pop corn was to hold and shake a wire basket filled with raw corn kernels over an open flame or fire. The result was a hot, dry, unevenly cooked and often burned snack. The Cretors machine automatically popped corn in a mixture of lard, oil, and salt. The result was a machine that popped corn in its own seasoning – uniformly for the first time.
Charles Cretors originated from Lebanon, Ohio. He traveled the Midwest and settled in Fort Scott, Kansas for a few years, and then Decatur, Illinois. He spent his time working in the painting and contracting business, opened a bakery, and eventually a confectionery shop. As each venture led to the next, Cretors discovered he had a passion for how things worked. As an addition to the confectionery shop, Cretors purchased a peanut roaster to broaden his offerings to include fresh roasted peanuts. Not satisfied with how the machine worked, he redesigned it to work better. It was at this time that Cretors moved his wife and family to Chicago where he felt he could become a commercial success by selling his new machine. It was 1885.
Cretors wanted to test his new roaster under everyday conditions, and he also needed money. So, he purchased a vendor's license and put his machine on the sidewalk in front of his shop to test it and sell product at the same time. The date on the vendor's license is December 2, 1885, which marks the inception of C. Cretors & Company. The new roaster was driven by a small steam engine, which automated the roasting process, which was a new concept. A chance meeting happened between Cretors and a traveling salesman who purchased a bag of roasted peanuts. The salesman, J.M Savage, was very intrigued with the new peanut roaster, and offered to sell it in his territory. Cretors agreed to the proposal, and hired his first salesman.
By 1893, Cretors had created a steam powered machine that could roast 12 pounds of peanuts, 20 pounds of coffee, pop corn, and bake chestnuts as well. Popcorn was becoming the next popular choice for snackfood. Cretors redesigned his automated roasting machine so it would roast peanuts and pop popcorn at the same time. Cretors' machine design offered several advantages over the hand-operated process. First as a machine, it made operation more predictable and it provided an attraction for both the retailer and the customer. There was the novelty of the steam engine, and the Tosty Rosty Man, a small mechanical clown that acted as a merchandiser for the machine. Cretors' machine became the first automated machine that could pop popcorn uniformly in its own seasonings. As a result, the product came out the same way every time. Cretors applied for a patent on his new automated peanut roaster and popcorn popper machine on August 10, 1891. U.S. Patent 506,207 was granted to Cretors on October 10, 1893.
Charles Cretors took his new popcorn wagon and peanut roaster to the Midway of Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893 and introduced the new corn product to the public in a newly designed machine that included a popcorn wagon. After a trial period where Cretors gave away samples of his new popcorn product, people began to line up to purchase bags of the hot, buttered popcorn.
Specialised popcorn pots, also called stove-top poppers, have been marketed under various brand names, including Whirley Pop, Theater II and Sweet & Easy; all of them are basically a pot that has an integrated stirring blade operated by turning a crank. This is to prevent burning of the kernels on the bottom and, under limited conditions, enables users to make sweetened popcorn by mixing sugar directly with the kernels before they pop.
In 1978 Presto introduced the Popcorn Pumper, a popper for consumer use in the home, which used hot air blown up through the kernels. By cooking without oil, it reduced the calories and fat in the finished product. It was also faster and easier than pan-fry popping.
Home popcorn makers are also available which consist of an electrically-heated circular tray with a powered stirring arm, into which corn and oil can be placed, with a dome-shaped cover which often doubles as a serving bowl.
In the mid-1970s Pillsbury made microwave popcorn for sale in vending machines (and later to wide distribution in supermarkets, as microwave oven sales increased), thus reducing the need for a separate appliance in some homes; however up to 60% of the calories of this type of popcorn are derived from fat (lower fat versions are available). Many people today choose to microwave popcorn using their own bags. Popcorn can be placed in any paper bag, which is then folded and put in a microwave for several minutes depending on the wattage power of the microwave.
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