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  • Medha Imam: The United States is the biggest producer

  • of popcorn in the world,

  • and the majority comes from right here in the Midwest.

  • The secret to the American popcorn

  • people can't get enough of

  • are these one-of-a-kind kernels,

  • which only grow in the Midwestern region

  • known as the Corn Belt.

  • There's kernel in my boot!

  • This type of kernel is what you most likely eat

  • in a movie theater,

  • and this type is better

  • for your caramel and cheese coating.

  • But no matter the type, if you're eating popcorn,

  • there's a high probability it comes from here.

  • We get an inside look at both the making

  • and planting process of the popular,

  • crunchy snack.

  • We visited Preferred Popcorn in Indiana in the spring,

  • when popcorn kernels need to be planted,

  • so they can be harvested in the late summer or early fall.

  • The company plants 100 million pounds

  • of popcorn kernels a year.

  • For all those kernels to turn into

  • the best American popcorn,

  • it all starts with the soil.

  • Farmers here say conditions in the Midwest

  • create soil that produces near-perfect kernels --

  • first of all, because of temperature.

  • If you go too far south in the growing conditions,

  • it gets too hot, and popcorn does not like a lot of heat.

  • So southern Indiana to northern Indiana

  • and out through Nebraska

  • is some of the best areas to grow corn.

  • It gets cooler at night,

  • the higher expansion we will have out of it.

  • In southern Indiana here,

  • we get over 60 inches of rain a year,

  • is our normal season.

  • So, Mother Nature takes care of us.

  • Medha: This extra rainfall allows the soil

  • to be fertile and rich.

  • The moisture in the soil provides the corn

  • the nutrients it needs to grow.

  • The flat land also makes it easier to plant

  • and harvest crops.

  • Brian: When you pick up the soil

  • and it crumbles like that between your hands,

  • your fingers, that is ready to plant.

  • Medha: OK. Versus if it would clump --

  • Brian: It would clump together and clay,

  • then it won't, the seeds can't germinate through it.

  • So you want it to be mellow like this,

  • is what it's called.

  • It's just perfect to plant today.

  • There they are.

  • Right in there, ready to grow.

  • I'll cover that one back up. We need it.

  • Medha: In about seven days, these seeds will germinate,

  • and three days later, they will emerge from the ground.

  • And as they grow, there's a telltale sign

  • to know if what you're looking at

  • is actually popcorn or another type of corn.

  • The only way to tell the difference

  • between popcorn and field corn

  • as you're driving down the road:

  • Popcorn tassels hang down like an umbrella,

  • where field corn, tassels stay erect.

  • Medha: Popcorn is one of six types of corn.

  • It's a variant of flint corn

  • called Zea mays everta, or "corn turned inside out."

  • It's the only maize that pops.

  • The kernels are generally smaller and harder

  • and can come in about 100 different strains.

  • Farmers breed the popcorn plant

  • to enhance taste, texture, and popability.

  • We have two different types of popcorn.

  • You have butterfly popcorn,

  • which blows apart and makes like a butterfly,

  • and then you have mushroom corn.

  • It makes like a ball.

  • The difference is in that we plant different seeds

  • in the ground in order to get that.

  • To look at the kernels themselves,

  • you really can't tell a difference

  • between the butterfly kernels and the mushroom kernels.

  • Medha: At the time of the harvest,

  • the corn is picked and fed through a combine,

  • which strips the ear from the stalk

  • and removes the kernels from their cobs.

  • The kernels are then taken to a storage bin.

  • Brian: OK, we're looking at our storage bins.

  • We can hold, what is it,

  • about 25 million pounds of corn here in the big bins,

  • is where we're going to go to first.

  • Medha: Yeah, let's get in.

  • Is this good?

  • Oh, wow.

  • Ah! [Brian laughs]

  • There's kernel in my boot!

  • Brian: There's kernels in your boots.

  • Medha: All right. So, where are we right now, Brian?

  • Brian: We're in bin No. 110.

  • It holds 3.2 million pounds of popcorn.

  • So, what we have a hold of here

  • is a temperature cable.

  • Now, we have cables in the bins,

  • because like we've talked about

  • how important the moisture is.

  • Well, what this does is every three foot,

  • there's a moisture sensor on this.

  • So when the bin is completely full,

  • then it's checking the moisture throughout the bin

  • and it's turning the fan on and off

  • depending on the outside conditions.

  • If we need to add a little water

  • when the humidity is high or it's raining a little bit,

  • it'll turn the fans on automatically

  • to keep that moisture content perfect

  • all throughout the whole bin.

  • Between 13.5% and 14.5%,

  • that's what makes that kernel blow up

  • to the highest potential.

  • Medha: So, I'm touching this kernel right now.

  • Can you by feel know the moisture content?

  • Brian: No, I wish we could.

  • The way it flows, it's in perfect condition.

  • If corn is a little wet, it doesn't flow good.

  • Like, when we step in this and the corn slides down,

  • that means it's in good condition.

  • It's just nice big kernels of corn.

  • But we can keep it for four or five years.

  • Medha: Four or five years? Oh, wow!

  • Brian: That's what's good about popcorn.

  • It has that real hard outer layer, a pericarp, on it,

  • so that protects it.

  • So as long as we can keep the moisture in and check on it,

  • then it'll keep for a long time.

  • You could put field corn in an oven

  • and try to heat it up, and it will burn

  • and just kind of explode a little bit.

  • Medha: I tried to do that when I was a kid.

  • Brian: [laughing] It will not work.

  • But we need to try it.

  • Medha: And that's why, because that corn is way too soft.

  • The kernels are too soft for it to actually pop.

  • Brian: Yes.

  • That's what fills the bin.

  • Medha: Oh, that's what fills the bin?

  • We're going up a silo, correct?

  • Brian: Yes.

  • Medha: All the way to the top.

  • Oh, my -- wow.

  • We're on top of a silo with Brian over here.

  • Holy moly.

  • We're going down.

  • So, we're on top of?

  • Brian: We're on top of -- there's about

  • 2 million pounds of corn in this bin

  • that we're standing on top of.

  • Medha: Oh, my God, imagine if we sunk in.

  • Brian: [laughing] Yes.

  • Medha: So 2 million pounds.

  • Brian: 2 million pounds of popcorn.

  • Medha: Holy moly.

  • Brian: Oh. So if it, I guess if this popped up,

  • it would be 48 times the size of this bin, popped.

  • So think of that.

  • Medha: Wow. So imagine 48 of these silos,

  • these sandboxes.

  • All right, we're coming back up.

  • I'm gonna try to unload all the --

  • When the kernels have reached the optimal moisture level,

  • they go through a series of sorting machines,

  • where size, shape, color, and cleanliness