Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pop, Pop, Pop..

There was a whole lot of popping going on at the Shallowford Popcorn Farm yesterday!

Somethings we learned:

•1 Popcorn grows best in rich soil. It is planted in checkrows, rows that intersect at right (90-degree) angles, so that it can be harvested by machine. Hybrid forms of popcorn have been perfected to produce the most grains per ear of corn, flavorful kernels, the correct internal moisture to insure that most of the corn pops, and other market-friendly characteristics. When the ears are ripe, the corn is harvested with either a picker that removes the ears and leaves the stalks temporarily or with a combine that crushes the corn stalks, mechanically removes the ears, and husks the corn. Combines tend to do more damage to the ears of corn. The ears are collected in the field in bins or boxes and moved into steel cribs using mechanical elevators or conveyors.

•2 The ears are dried in cribs that are narrow and have open slots to minimize the time needed to dry them. A crib can be up to three stories high, as long as a city block, and with a capacity of up to 4 million lb (1.8 million kg) of corn. The ears are stored for eight to 12 months to allow them to dry, or in an alternative method, hot air is forced up into the cribs through holes in the bottoms of them to reduce the natural drying time. While in the cribs, the corn is carefully tended until the kernels reach a moisture content of 12.5-13.5% moisture, which is ideal for popping characteristics.

•3 The dried ears of popcorn are then transferred by conveyor belt to the factory and a machine called a scalper. The scalper strips the kernels from the cobs. Simultaneously, a cleaner and de-stoner sort out the shuckings and any dirt or particles by passing it through a series of screens to separate the kernels. They are cleaned and polished in another machine equipped with metal brushes that remove the chaff (sometimes called bee's wings). A gravity separator is then used to separate good kernels from bad; the kernels that have matured properly are lighter in weight, so the bad kernels drop through the bottom of the separator and are recycled for use as seed. The kernels near the two ends of the cob also tend to be either too small or too large to pop properly, and the gravity separator removes them as well.



(Gravity Seperator)

•4 Finally, in the portion of the factory called the fanning mill, fans blow dust and other fine material off the kernels, and the kernels are treated with a natural, inert fumigant to eliminate insects. Most manufacturers avoid pesticides altogether during the winter months when bugs are less common, and all must comply with government regulations regarding their use. Now completely processed, the popcorn kernels travel toward storage bins on a conveyor belt; quality-control personnel watch the passing flow and vacuum up bad kernels that may have escaped the previous sortings.

•5 Types of popcorn with no other additives go directly to holding bins to await packaging. For microwave popcorn, measured amounts of salt, soybean oil, flavoring, and popcorn are pumped or dropped into the microwave bags. The bags are not vacuum-sealed, but they are air tight to prevent moisture in the air from affecting the contents.

•6 In the packaging area, popcorn is conveyed from the holding bins to packing machines where it is placed in bags and then boxed for storage or shipment. Usually, the factory will bag a particular type of quantity, say 5 lb (2.27 kg) bags, until it has met its orders plus some for storage. Then the packing line is changed to accommodate different bags and quantities of popcorn.

So if you have ever wondered how you get this:

from this:

NOW YOU KNOW:)..Pretty cool Huh?

*Special thanks to the moms from Triad Homeschoolers who helped provide me with pictures(since I didn't have my camera) and also since pictures were not allowed in the actual factory, props go to yahoo and google images;)