Nothing tickles your taste buds like freshly popped popcorn. Its fresh and tantalizing smell attracts you from afar and a movie night isn’t a movie night without it. Popcorn has been enjoyed for centuries, but how much do we really know about this crunchy snack?
Munching on it at cinemas, carnivals and parties, you would think that all corn is the same, but nope they’re not. In fact, there is a variety of corn which includes sweet, flint, dent and popcorn. What makes it different from the rest is that it’s the only known corn to actually “pop”.
In the 1940’s the oldest remnants of this crunchy snack were discovered in a cave in New Mexico. According to carbon dating, a scientific way of determining an item’s age, popcorn was discovered just over 5000 years ago.
One of Mzansi’s popcorn producers, Genade Boerdery, is owned by Vickie Bruwer and his three sons; Vickie, Hannes and Gerhard. The business operates from Douglas in the Northern Cape and also produces other crops like potatoes and cotton.
At the forefront of the company’s popcorn division is Hannes Bruwer (35). He says besides the popping, this crop also differs in size. “Popcorn has a lower water requirement than maize and sweet corn. Its fertilizer requirement is also lower than that of ordinary maize crops, as it is also much smaller. A major challenge in South Africa is the management of worms and insects, however plagues can be controlled through genetically modified organism (GMO) maize because it is less prone to mites,” Bruwer adds.
In Mzansi there are two types of popcorn; the butterfly type which you’ll find at cinemas and the mushroom type which is usually dipped in caramel. Bruwer has been farming with this crop since 2009 and says it grows at its best in desert-like environments.
“Our warm and dry climate is ideal; we farm in the Karoo, so the desert conditions are excellent. Our almost orange colored popcorn is world famous and very sought after. The rest of the countries producing popcorn color is very pale.”
The planting season usually takes place between November and December. It is then harvested during May and June the following year. Out of the popcorn produced in South Africa, only 15% are sold among the local market and the rest is exported.
One of SA’s biggest popcorn producers is Biggi Brands, that is situated in Hopetown in the Northern Cape.
Riël De Kock, chief executive officer of the company, explains how this popping crop is farmed, harvested and stored.
“Popcorn will grow in any climate similar to maize and in line with a typical summer crop, preferably under irrigation. The growing season is approximately 150 days from plant to harvest. And under good storage conditions the popcorn can then be stored for at least 24 months,” says De Kock.
De Kock explains that sweet or dent corn and popcorn are the two types of corn that come from a totally different gene pool and variety of maize. “Scientifically normal maize, dent/sweet corn, is known as Zea mays and popcorn as Zea mays everta. Neither sweet corn nor dent corn will “pop”. In the same way that popcorn cannot be eaten as sweetcorn.”
Another big popcorn producing company in Mzansi is AGT Foods Africa, which is an agricultural production, processing and trading organisation. Dean Miller, AGT Foods group marketing manager, says they produce approximately 40 000 metric tons of popcorn per year. This includes 20% mushroom and 80% butterfly popcorn.
With 10 years of popcorn farming experience behind his back, Genade Boerdery’s Bruwer forecasts a stable future for this popular snack.
“Our South African quality is our competitive advantage. There are good prospects for popcorn, especially with the recent opening of Dubai’s first cinema. There’ll be many more markets interested in popcorn.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) GMOs are plants, animals or microorganisms that have been genetically modified through what is known as gene technology.
“It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species,” WHO states.