Man grabs a few pieces of popcorn while reading a book

Popcorn vs. Field Corn: What is the Difference Between the Two?

While they may look similar, these two types of corn have distinct characteristics and purposes. See why popcorn pops and learn about different popcorn plant varieties like pearl and rice popcorn.

Did you know that no two corns are the same? There are actually many different types of corn; each with its own purpose.

Some kinds of corn are best for eating, other types are good for making popcorn, while other varieties of corn are really only used for animal feed. So while all ears of corn look pretty similar, they’re actually very diverse.

In this post, we’re going to talk specifically about the difference between regular corn and popcorn. Let’s dive right in and see why these whole grains are so unique:  

What Are the Main Differences Between Corn and Popcorn?

At their core, regular corn and popcorn may be the same plant. But they grow and perform in unique ways.

The popcorn plant is known as Zea Mays Everta. It’s a specific type of popcorn that has dense kernels. Those kernels pop under pressure, turning into the popcorn snack you know and love. Popcorn kernels are much drier than regular corn kernels — you wouldn’t want to take a bite out of an ear of popcorn. It lacks the moisture levels and flavor of sweet field corn.

Regular corn also has a different type of endosperm which is on the inside of the kernel. This is what makes the popcorn pop when put under enough pressure. You need to have the right kind of corn if you want to make popcorn.

Types of Popcorn Plants

There are several varieties of popcorn plants. Each one will make white, fluffy popcorn, but each one has its own characteristics. The plants may vary in size and color and even the popcorn it creates will be a little different. 

Most popcorn plants are grown in the Midwest, which includes:

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • Ohio
  • Missouri

FUN FACT: The kernels we use in our popcorn kits are sourced from family-owned farms in Iowa and Missouri. So with every bite of Oh Sooo Buttery Popcorn or Classic Kettle Popcorn, you’re guaranteed fresh, flavor-packed popcorn.

Pearl Popcorn

Pearl popcorn is a type of popcorn plant with a large, round shape. It’s slightly yellow and keeps that hue even after it pops. This is the kind of popcorn you usually find in movie theaters since its kernel is durable. The starchy, popcorn holds up under even the heaviest movie theater butter seasoning.

Pearl popcorn expands impressively when cooked. Unpopped kernels grow to be about 45 times their original size. It’s safe to say that this kind of popcorn is popular for good reason, and you’ve probably already enjoyed it.

Rice Popcorn 

Rice popcorn has elongated kernels that are a little smaller than pearl popcorn. This is the kind of popcorn you usually find in pre-bagged or microwave popcorn bags.

When rice popcorn pops, its color is white. The popcorn kernels grow about 40 times their original size, with a light, fluffy, and slightly crunchy texture. Rice popcorn is softer than pearl popcorn and can only hold lighter seasonings like a little salt or butter.

Different Colors of Popcorn

Popcorn comes in a lot of colors. You may be surprised by how colorful popcorn can be — blue, yellow, red, white, and even pink kernels exist.

The color of the popcorn doesn’t affect texture but it can have an impact on the taste. Colored popcorn tends to have a stronger corn-like taste while white or yellow popcorn is more neutral. The corn taste can be quite delicious, but if you want your seasonings to really shine, stick to the usual white or yellow.

Types of Corn Plants

Corn plants are also diverse. Every plant will produce corn that varies in taste, texture, and color. A lot will depend on where the corn is grown and also what it was planted for.

Field corn, sweet corn, and flint corn are a few of the most common types of corn plants. These plants create kernels that don’t dry out as much as popcorn kernels. They’re best for eating or using as animal feed.

Let’s take a closer look at each one:

Field Corn

Field corn is the most common type of corn grown in the United States. It’s the corn that likely comes to mind when you think about corn. It has tall green stalks and bright yellow cobs.

Field corn can be broken into two categories: flint corn and dent corn.

Dent corn has a high starch content and is often used as animal feed or in food manufacturing. It’s also used to make corn syrup, an ingredient in a lot of processed food.

Flint corn, on the other hand, is known for its unique colors. You may have heard about a kind of corn called Indian corn? Well, it comes in reds, blues, and pinks and may just be the prettiest corn out there.

Sweet Corn

Sweet corn is mostly enjoyed in the summertime when it’s in season and irresistible, but you can buy it canned to eat it all year long. This is the corn you see in grocery stores and at roadside stands. It’s grown primarily for human consumption.

Sweet corn has a very high sugar content which makes it taste sweeter than other types of corn. It’s much tastier than starchy field corn. This is is the kind of corn you want to slather with butter and eat right off the cob.

Learn More Popcorn Fun Facts with Popsmith

We hope you learned a lot about the difference between popcorn and other types of corn! What was the most surprising thing you found out?

If you’re interested in exploring popcorn recipes or just knowing more about your favorite snack, feel free to check out our blog!

Corn vs Popcorn FAQs

Can regular corn pop like popcorn?

No, regular corn doesn’t pop like popcorn kernels. Popcorn kernels have a lower moisture content than regular corn. The endosperm on regular corn will not pop under pressure as it does on popcorn. You can try popping regular corn but you’ll likely just end up with a bowl full of burnt corn kernels.

Do you dry popcorn before or after you harvest it?

Popcorn kernels need to be dried on the cob before it's harvested. One way to tell if the popcorn cob is ready to harvest is by checking the husk. When the husk is dry and all the kernels in the corn are dry, it’s ready. The drying process can take one week or longer depending on the weather.

Are corn and popcorn healthy?

Corn and popcorn both provide some health benefits. However, they aren’t always healthy.

Field corn is highly processed before it’s ready to use. This can lead it toward the unhealthy side, especially since it’s often turned into sugary syrup. Sweet corn can be a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

Popcorn, on the other hand, isn’t inherently unhealthy. It's the seasoning and oil people add that can take away the beneficial carbohydrates and decrease the nutritional value of the corn.

Is popcorn considered a vegetable?

Popcorn is considered a whole grain, not a vegetable. All corn is a grain; however, many grains are considered to be fruit. So despite what you might have thought before, corn isn't actually a vegetable.

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