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.

There are several 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 are really only used for animal feed. So while all ears of corn look similar, they’re really quite diverse.

In today's post, we’re going to talk specifically about the differences between regular corn and popcorn. Let’s dive right in and see what makes these whole grains so unique:  

What Are the Primary Differences Between Corn and Popcorn?

Man holds up several buckets of 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. It's on the inside of the kernel, and is what makes the popcorn pop when subjected to enough pressure.

Types of Popcorn Plants

There are several varieties of popcorn plants. All pop into white, fluffy popcorn, but each also 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 come 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. 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. You usually see this kind of popcorn in pre-bagged or microwave popcorn bags.

When rice popcorn pops, its color is white. The popcorn kernels grow around 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 Popcorn Colors

Popcorn comes in a lot of colors. Blue, yellow, red, white, and even pink kernels exist.

While the color of the popcorn doesn't affect texture, it can affect its taste. Colored popcorn tends to have a stronger corn-like taste while white and yellow popcorn are more neutral. You might want to stick to the latter two if you really want your seasonings to shine.

Types of Corn Plants

Man adds seasoning to popcorn

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 what it was planted for.

Field corn, sweet corn, and flint corn are among 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

This is the most common type of corn grown in the United States. It's what likely comes to mind when you think of corn. Picture tall green stalks and bright yellow cobs.

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

Dent corn has a high starch content and is typically 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. Ever hear of a kind of corn called Indian corn? Well, if you haven't, it comes in reds, blues, and pinks and may just be the prettiest corn out there!

Sweet Corn

Sweet corn is the corn you see in grocery stores and at roadside stands. It's grown primarily for human consumption and normally enjoyed during summertime when it's in season. But you can buy it canned to eat it all year round. 

Sweet corn has a very high sugar content which makes it taste sweeter than other types of corn (hence the name). It’s much tastier than starchy field corn and 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? Let us know in the comments.

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.

Is popcorn considered a vegetable?

Popcorn is considered a whole grain. 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.

Do you dry popcorn before or after you harvest it?

Popcorn kernels need to be dried on the cob before harvest. One way to tell if the popcorn cob is ready for harvesting 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 make it lead 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.

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