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Momochtli… I’m sure you’ve had some.

9 December 2022

I’m sure there are people in this world who have never had a taco or tortilla, and have been denied availing themselves of traditional indigenous Mexican cuisine — not the grasshoppers, ants eggs and maguey worms, which for some reason some find gross, but one that has been around for at least the last 9 to 10,000 years, which very, very few people would recognize as traditional indigenous american cuisine….

Anything pop into your head? Is that first paragraph a little corny?

Yup… popcorn. Zea mays everta , one of the seven (out of 59) varieties of corn orginating in Mexico, and one of the first to be developed. There is argheological evidence of popcorn cultures in central Mexico going back to the dawn of agriculture, some nine to ten thousand years ago.

Hard to believe, but popcorn was popping (and being eaten) long before tortillas or tamales were thought of (maybe after a meal of popcorn, those ancient people just had enough… or maybe the village storyteller was about to start the second feature, and everybody just went out an got another bucketload of popcorn. They even had carmel corn: According to the Diccionario enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana not having a microwave, or a Jiffy-pop type device, momochtli was placed right on the comal to burst, then smeared with maguey honey. In Chiapas, popcorn is still made (by wise grannies) the ancient times with piloncillo honey. A candy they call puxinú — candied popcorn — is commonly still sold in Tuxtla Gutiérrez and Chiapa de Corzo.

Fast forward several millenia. In his “General History of the Things of New Spain“, Bernardino de Sahagún mentiones his amazement at seeing grains of roasted corn that in his word “flowered”into what he was told was “momochtli”.

Friar Bernadino further mentins that popcorn had some religious significance … “the women maidens danced, shaved and feathered with red feathers, all their arms and all their legs, and they wore capillejos composed of instead of flowers with toasted corn that they called momochtli, where each grain is a very white flower”. By the way, with the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe coming up, the are some communities that make gigantic floral (er… popcorn) displays reaching up to a meter or two in diameter, of artfully arranged popcorn around an image of the Virgin.

Surprising, the gringos, while they did manage to expropriate so much of what was Mexican over the past two and a half centuries didn’t really get into popcurn until the Great Depression… when about the only public amusement most people could afford was an afternoon at the movies. And a snack.. something cheap,warm… and more or less having some nutritional value.

Glen Dickenson began installing popcorn machnes in his movie theaters in 1938, and by the 1950s, US growers and distributers had founded a Popcorn Institute to market what had been a niche Mexican staple to the world. Microwave popcorn, introduced by General Mills in 1980, somehow became the stanard… even in Mexico.

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