Quick — what were you doing the last time you had popcorn?
Were you at the movies, maybe watching TV at home?
Popcorn is synonymous with movie theaters and sports arenas, but you can also find bowls of it at card tables and neighborhood bars.
“It’s one of those social snacks,” says Gene Mealhow of Tiny But Mighty Popcorn in Shellsburg. “It goes anywhere.”
“It’s a happy food,” adds Maureen Meredith of Iowa Popcorn Company in Marion. “Think of the times you’ve had it, at the movies or a soccer game or the fair. You’re happy to be there, you’re happy to eat it.”
“We’ve had this business for 10 years and you can count on one hand the number of people we’ve had in here who are grumpy,” says Nevin Meredith, Maureen’s husband.
Popcorn lovers have a new reason to be happy. A recent study suggests that one serving of popcorn has more antioxidants than a day’s worth of fruits or vegetables, based on the average American diet.
“Popcorn may be the perfect snack food,” states study author Joe Vinson, a chemist at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. “It’s the only snack that is 100 percent whole grain.”
Of course, Vinson is referring to popcorn that isn’t covered in butter and salt, but even people who choose to add flavorings to their kernels are making smarter food choices than those munching on cookies and chips.
“Popcorn can be salty, it can be sweet,” says Melissa Blanchett, manager of Corn-Fusion at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids. “There’s so much you can do with it, which makes it appealing to so many people.”
Those who prefer the healthy version might opt for Mealhow’s popcorn, which comes from an heirloom strain of corn.
The ears of Tiny But Mighty’s corn grow no larger than the size of an outstretched hand, creating a concentrated taste. And, because the kernels are so small, the outer layer of the kernel, called the hull, disintegrates when popped, making this a snack people with dental or digestive concerns can enjoy.
The Combo at Iowa Popcorn Company is the Marion store’s biggest seller.
“It’s a cult,” Maureen Meredith says of the of butter, caramel and cheese popcorn. “At Christmas time, we dream in these colors.”
Nevin Meredith doesn’t snack on popcorn as much as one would expect — Maureen can’t make the same claim — but says everyone at Iowa Popcorn Supply waits until he’s out before making a batch of Monster Munch — caramel popcorn with chocolate.
Corn-Fusion has more than 75 popcorn flavors, from the traditional cheese and kettle corn to the unique.
“We have a buffalo wing popcorn and spicy taco popcorn,” Blanchett says. “A lot of people are like, ‘What?’”
Some of the flavors were developed from recipes Blanchett’s uncle purchased before opening Corn-Fusion in October 2011. Others are the result of experiments.
Not every attempt yields a winner. Those that do, though, find their way to customers who declare the creation a new favorite.
“Popcorn is just a fun snack,” Blanchett says.
Shops and Hours
Corn-Fusion, Lindale Mall, 4444 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids; open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
Iowa Popcorn Co., 714 10th St., Marion; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Tiny But Mighty Popcorn, available at most Hy-Vee and Fareway stores, for a complete store list, or to place an order online, go to Tinybutmightyfoods.com