The Fourth of July. The number one day on the calendar to take pride in our country. Flags flying high. Fireworks burst throughout the air. Cookouts are taking place with hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, watermelon, potato salad, and all the food that we Americans celebrate with. On the eve of another Fourth of July I wanted to talk about a food that is American to the core – popcorn or popped maize for you fancy people or Michigan Wolverine fans (Go Blue!). I am going to share with you the best popcorn you can find from sea to shining sea.
Brief History of Popcorn in America
Although popcorn has been around for sometime, it was really in the 19th century that it began to become popular. Equipment was invented to be able to pop it and sell it from carts. The time period in which really took off with a bang was during the Great Depression. Popcorn was cheap enough people could afford it still during difficult times. Once movie theaters realized they could pop their own popcorn and sell it for eating during the films, popcorn had a firm grasp as one of the top snacks in America.
The Best Popcorn in America
Below you will find what in my opinion are the best varieties of popcorn in America grown in places like Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. This list will not include any pre-popped popcorn. These is all about the popping the kernel for yourself.
Bur Oaks Farm Red Popcorn
This is the popcorn that started it all for me. Before I ate this popcorn for the first time I never knew anything other than the generic yellow or white stuff found in every grocery store. For me this is a locally grown variety, here in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I discovered it around town.
You will notice when you pop this popcorn it looks different in the bowl. It appears whiter and you can still make out some of the broken up pieces of the red pericarp (the outer layer of the kernel). Besides the obvious color difference, the biggest thing that sets it apart from your everyday yellow popcorn is the tenderness. Tom Bloomer from Bur Oaks Farms say that is the real selling point of his red popcorn.
Where to Buy: You can buy their popcorn right off their website. They also sell a white variety along with some gift boxes featuring Michigan products.
Tiny But Mighty Heirloom Popcorn
This heirloom variety of popcorn I first discovered at Whole Foods Market. The word “heirloom” attracted my attention and the story got me hooked. In the 1850s this variety of popcorn was discovered by Samuel Kelty. It remained in the family for generations. It was almost lost. Samuel’s great, great, great grandson, Richard found his mom ready to pop the last of the kernels they had. He stopped her to grab some to plant. Because of that split second decision we still have this variety around the people all over the nation are enjoying it.
I asked Tiny But Mighty Foods how they would describe their popcorn in their own words. They said:
Our variety is a one of a kind, rare heirloom that dates back to the 1850’s. It’s very tiny, so it doesn’t have the shells that get stuck in your teeth, and it’s easier to digest. The color of the variety is what we call a lemon-yellow. We are Non-GMO Project Verified
This is my kids’ favorite popcorn. My oldest daughter doesn’t eat any other popcorn. The kids love that the popcorn is small and doesn’t get stuck in their teeth. If you want to feed popcorn to your kids this is the type of popcorn I would recommend.
Check out this video to learn more about Tiny But Mighty:
Where to Buy: You can find their popcorn unpopped and popped at Whole Foods Market. A money saving tip, check the bulk section. You often can buy it there. Tiny But Mighty have a store locator on their website that you can use to search for their popcorn. You can also buy it on Amazon.
Amish Country Popcorn
The next popocorn comes from Amish Country. They are all about selection – many different offers of all different shapes and colors. Check out a a shot of my Instagram account form last time I stocked up on their popcorn at a store in Ohio.
Beautiful, huh. I love buying a bunch of different varieties of their popcorn as it fun to mix it up. Some of the varieties I buy include: Midnight blue, Purple, Red, Rainbow, Ladyfinger, and Mushroom. It’s fun to invite people over and pop up several different types, see what they think. All of their varieties are non-GMO in case you were wondering.
Amish Country Popcorn was founded by Brian Lehman at the family farm in Berne, Indiana. His dad planted popcorn for him when he was 6 years old. He fell in love with it and has been growing it ever since. Brian likes growing different types of popcorn because different people like different popcorns. He wants to satisfy ever customer. He has satisfied me time and time again.
Where to Buy: Amish Country Popcorn is available in a lot of places. I typically find in in bulk stores and Amish shops. You can buy it on Amazon as well.
Monarch Butterfly Popcorn
In the winter of 2016, my wife and my youngest daughter took a trip out to California to surprise my father in law for his birthday. While they did that, the other 2 kids and I took a short trip to Wisconsin. One of the things on my list to do was visit Brennan’s Market. I really enjoyed this store when I was visiting Madison, Wisconsin in 2010. After looking at the great cheese selection, I came upon a display with popcorn. A couple different varieties were available. The popcorn that I was excited to try was the Monarch Butterfly popcorn. At Brennan’s the popcorn was described as having an “exceptional yellow corn taste”. Being a lover of taste, I bought a container and popped it up as soon as I got back home. I decided to try it freshly popped even before adding salt. I tasted flavor without the salt. Once I added the salt it as over. Monarch Butterfly was the most flavorful popcorn I ever tasted. This may sound corny to your ears but the popcorn had a really corny flavor.
I contacted Wisconsin Gold Harvest and asked them what makes their corn so special. Colleen said:
Popcorn is special…not like field corn. Different varieties like different conditions. Along with Mother Nature, the popcorn seed growers are key as they produce the seed varieties we plant, they are constantly trying to improve. As farmers, we need to be true observers of nature and we have to take care of the soil. It’s a combination of many factors, only some of which we control.
Where to Buy: Find their popcorn at Brennan’s Markets in Wisconsin. You can also purchase it directly from them by visiting their website.
Grow Your Own Popcorn
While in most areas of the country right now it is too late to plant popcorn for this year to grow yourself. Growing your own popcorn gets you the opportunity to taste different types you won’t find in any store. My favorite source for buying popcorn is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They offer a fantastic selection of popcorn varieties of different colors, flavors, and textures.
The Best Salt for Popcorn
Real Salt is the only salt I use on my popcorn. It really elevates the flavor of any popcorn. Read my full post on The Best Salt for Popcorn and make sure to also check out How to Make Your Own Popcorn Salt.