Why do we all love popcorn when we're watching a movie?

These days, families can easily recreate movie nights in the comfort of their own home thanks to widescreen TVs and fresh popcorn made in their own popcorn maker. But popcorn wasn’t always the go-to accompaniment to the latest blockbuster. 

Popcorn and the early American movies

Popcorn became hugely popular in North America in the second half of the 19th century. After the invention of the steam-powered popcorn maker in 1885, popcorn became a hugely popular street food because the mobile nature of the popcorn machine meant vendors could follow the crowds to sports games and other events. 

It seems extraordinary these days that there was ever a time when you didn’t eat popcorn at the cinema. However, in the golden age of silent movies at the beginning of the 20th century, it was definitely not welcome in the early movie theatres. In these early days, movie theatre owners wanted their venues to be seen in the same light as regular theatres, and the buildings were lavishly decorated to try to attract a highbrow clientele - the sort of people who would not have welcomed the distractions and noise of others snacking on popcorn! 

When the talkies came along, cinema became much more popular with the masses, but popcorn was still unwelcome in the movie theatres. It wasn’t until the Great Depression, when people flocked to the movies as a cheap way of escaping the reality of everyday life, that popcorn’s relationship with movies became established. By this time the street vendors had learnt to set their popcorn machines up outside movie theatres in order to sell their popcorn to movie goers. Theatre owners soon realised there was money to be made and leased ‘lobby privileges’ to the popcorn sellers. Owners eventually realised it was more profitable to sell popcorn directly and installed their own machines. As popcorn was cheap to produce, it could be sold for a big profit. Indeed, it was only through popcorn sales that many movie theatres survived the Depression. 

Popcorn then became firmly established as a must-have movie accessory in the US, and its popularity quickly spread around the world. It’s still cheap to produce, even though foyer prices can sometimes be eye-wateringly expensive! Which is another reason why popcorn makers have become so popular at home.

Popcorn helps us ignore the adverts

Would you believe that scientists have done research into how popcorn blocks the messages from cinema adverts? Researchers from the University of Cologne conducted experiments where two groups of people watched cinema adverts - one group had popcorn to eat, the other group were given a single sugar cube. People who had been given the sugar cube exhibited psychological responses to the ads, whereas the ads had no effect at all on the people eating popcorn. 

The reason for this is because whenever we come across a new name, we subconsciously try to articulate it and repeat it in our heads. Even though this subconscious action doesn’t involve mouth movements, the act of eating popcorn (or anything else) disturbs the process. The repetition effect vanishes and there is no psychological response, meaning the ads had no effect on people who were eating popcorn when they watched them. Who knew something so tasty could be so useful!

Homemade popcorn can be healthier 

At the cinema, you can get popcorn that’s covered in all sorts of flavours, but not all of them are going to result in a healthy snack. Much of the time, the popcorn has been cooked in oil, meaning a small bag could be around 300 calories with 13 grams of fat… and that’s before you add flavourings like butter, one tablespoon of which could add another 130 calories with 14 grams of fat. 

On the other hand, air-popped popcorn only has 31 calories per cup (around 8 grams) with 0.36 grams of fat. And that's what you can achieve with the Sensio Home popcorn maker.

But we understand that plain popcorn can get a bit boring, so it’s OK to add your own seasonings to give yourself a delicious as well as healthy snack. For savoury flavours, try salt and vinegar, parmesan cheese, cayenne pepper, or chilli powder. If you have a sweet tooth, sprinkle your popcorn with cinnamon and add dried fruit. If you really need something a lot sweeter, drizzle with honey or melted chocolate. There are plenty of ways to enjoy a cinema experience at home without spending a lot of money or consuming too many calories. There are plenty of ways to recreate the cinema experience at home without spending a lot of money or consuming too many calories - and delicious homemade popcorn is a great place to start!