Corn vs Popcorn: What’s the Difference?



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corn vs popcorn whats the difference

You might be curious about the difference between sweetcorn and popcorn, given that both are a derivative of corn. In this article, we’ll compare these two foods and debate the difference in their nutritional value, taste, consistency, and more.

Corn vs Popcorn: What’s the Difference?

Here are the main differences between corn and popcorn:

  • Popcorn pops
  • Different shaped kernels
  • Calorie content
  • Consumption

While popcorn and corn arise from a type of corn, they’re essentially different in taste and texture; sweetcorn has a much sweeter taste, whereas popcorn is more savory.

The other main difference is you can’t consume popcorn off the corn, as you may seriously damage, if not break, a tooth. Sweetcorn, on the other hand, is safe to eat off the corn.

Got some old popcorn kernels? Check this article for some ideas of what to do with them.

Are Popcorn and Corn the Same Thing?

Popcorn is one of the six types of corn and is a wholegrain maize product. It originates from a wild grass, has the scientific name of Zea mays everta, and is the only type of corn that can pop.

Sweetcorn has a sweet and tender taste that’s grown for eating off the cob, in cans, or freezing. Popcorn has a hard outside shell that covers a starchy, soft center. This starchy substance appears when the kernels pop.

Popcorn is a type of flint corn that has a unique shape, size, and starch and moisture content. Once it’s heated, the kernels turn to steam, building up enough pressure to explode.

While popcorn resembles sweetcorn, only popcorn kernels can pop. The kernel is the part of corn that makes popcorn, and they require heating up to eat.

Is Corn or Popcorn Healthier?

While popcorn and sweetcorn are corn products, these ingredients have different nutritional values.

  • Protein: Both are fairly low in protein, but sweetcorn offers 2g of protein more in every cup, while popcorn offers 1g per cup.
  • Fiber: Corn on the cob is higher in fiber, providing 3g per cup, whereas popcorn offers 1g per cup.
  • Carbohydrates: Popcorn provides 6.3g per cup, and sweetcorn offers 26g per cup.

While you’re munching on popcorn throughout a movie, you might have wondered if that’s a healthy choice. One of the biggest benefits of eating popcorn is that it’s an excellent source of polyphenols—plant compounds that assist with digestive health and can even lower certain cancers.

Popcorn is low in calories and carbohydrates and offers a reasonable fiber content. However, consider any flavorings you add to the popcorn or any present in a pre-bought bag.

In particular, herbs and spices, such as paprika and cinnamon, are healthier than cooking in butter and adding ingredients like sugar or toffee.

What Makes Popcorn Different from Regular Corn?

Compared to sweetcorn, popcorn isn’t harvested when kernels are soft and tender but when the husks become brown, and the kernels have dried out and hardened. Once the kernels are heated, the starchy mass becomes steam and explodes, turning the kernels inside out.

You Can’t Eat Popcorn off the Cob

Popcorn grows on a cob, but it isn’t soft enough to eat off it. If you ate popcorn kernels off without heating them, you’d probably end up cracking a tooth.

Popcorn Pops

As you know, popcorn kernels pop, which isn’t the case for sweetcorn kernels. In fact, popcorn kernels contain a non-porous consistency that traps steam when it’s under heat. This creates a pressure buildup, resulting in the kernels exploding and exposing the soft, starchy mass.

Popcorn Must Be Dry for Harvest

Popcorn and sweetcorn are harvested differently. In particular, you harvest sweetcorn when the kernels’ tenderness peak and the plants will still be alive during this process.

In comparison, popcorn requires harvesting when the moisture within the kernels are 25 percent or less. If the moisture levels are any higher, the kernels won’t be able to pop. The plans will turn brown before popcorn is ready for harvesting.

The Kernels Shape

Sweetcorn kernels are round, soft, and squishy. Popcorn kernels are always round and never rectangular.

Sweetcorn Is Higher in Calories

Another big difference between these two corns is the nutritional value. Popcorn has fewer calories than sweetcorn due to its light, fluffy texture. With that being said, popcorn does contain a higher fat content than sweetcorn.

More FAQs on the the differences between Sweetcorn and Popcorn

Can you use sweetcorn to make popcorn or vice versa?

While it is technically possible to make popcorn from sweetcorn kernels, the result won’t be the same as true popcorn.

Sweetcorn lacks the specific characteristics that cause it to pop effectively. Likewise, using popcorn to make sweetcorn dishes wouldn’t be very practical, as popcorn kernels are much tougher and less palatable when cooked as sweetcorn.

Can sweetcorn be used to make cornmeal or cornstarch for cooking purposes?

Sweetcorn is generally not used to produce cornmeal or cornstarch as it is harvested at its immature stage, and the kernels are too tender for milling into these products. Cornmeal and cornstarch are usually made from mature, dried field corn (dent corn) varieties.

Can sweetcorn and popcorn be grown in the same way?

The cultivation process for sweetcorn and popcorn is generally similar since they are both varieties of maize.

However, farmers need to ensure that popcorn kernels are adequately dried on the cob before harvesting to achieve proper popping results. Sweetcorn, on the other hand, is harvested before maturity when the kernels are still tender and juicy.

Are there any regional preferences for sweetcorn and popcorn consumption?

Yes, regional preferences do exist. Sweetcorn is widely consumed as a vegetable in various cuisines around the world, while popcorn is particularly popular as a snack in many countries, often enjoyed at movie theaters, fairs, and home entertainment.

Popcorn is more commonly associated with the United States, where it has a long history as a beloved snack.

However, both sweetcorn and popcorn have global popularity and are enjoyed in different culinary contexts.

Conclusion and final thoughts 💭

There are many types of corn, and sweetcorn and popcorn originate from different corn. The most blatant difference between corn on the cob and popcorn is their appearance and taste.

Popcorn kernels have a non-porous surface that holds onto steam once exposed to high temperatures. Once enough pressure has built, the kernel explodes, revealing a soft, starchy texture. Compared to corn on the cob, you can’t eat popcorn without heating up the kernels, as they’re far too hard for human teeth.

Finally, popcorn is considered a savory snack, whereas sweetcorn is an addition to salads, pizza, sandwiches, and more.


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