Corn is king in Iowa. Look out any window or drive outside of the city, and it is the landscape. While it is used in a variety of products ranging from corn syrup to livestock feed to ethanol, another other important corn product is made in Iowa: Popcorn!
Iowa is one of the nine states that are considered “major popcorn producing states,” according to The Popcorn Board, a trade organization that represents the industry.
Whether buttered, salted, or plain, popcorn is a delicious easy-to-make snack. Like the rise of craft breweries in the Hawkeye State, gourmet popcorn has become the trend and you can find great popcorn anywhere in the state!
Located in the “Scenic City” of Iowa Falls, The Popcorn Stand is Iowa’s oldest running popcorn stand. Originally opened in the 1870s, the current stand has been in its Iowa Falls location since 1948. Owned by Anthony and Lisa Senne since 2014, The Popcorn Stand offers mainstay flavors of caramel, white, and a mix of the two. The stand uses white popcorn for its tenderness and coconut oil while popping to provide a better flavor than other oils.
According to the owners, they also have 25 other feature flavors in the rotation. The feature flavor beloved by most is the turtle, composed of chocolate, and white and caramel popcorn. For those who cannot travel to see the vintage popcorn stand, check out its website to order online.
Popping kernels since 2000, Sonrisers Popcorn makes its flavor-coated popcorn by hand. The Clarinda business was originally started to make extra income, but by 2015 owners Brenda and James Martin opened the Sonrisers Poprcream storefront. In addition to selling popcorn and ice cream, the business sold sandwiches and pizza to get the Martins through the slow times until they got to the popular Christmas popcorn season.
In November 2019, they started selling their popcorn nationwide but scaled back on the non-popcorn offerings at the Clarinda storefront after the pandemic hit. According to Brenda and James, caramel, salted caramel, and kettle corn are the most popular flavors. Other unique flavors include Ghost Flames, a popcorn seasoned with cheddar and ghost pepper powder, and Creaper which brings sweet and heat. It’s a caramel popcorn with Carolina reaper powder sprinkled on it. Popular Christmastime flavors include peanut brittle, turtle, peanut butter cup, and cookies and cream.
A love of popcorn runs in the blood for sisters BJ McElellan and Beth Boettcher, who launched Koated Kernels at the Sioux City Farmers’ Market in 2011. Their grandfather was the founder of Jolly Tip Pop Corn, another Sioux City staple and America’s oldest popcorn company.
Koated Kernels bloomed and the sisters eventually opened their own Sioux City storefront, located not too far away from Jolly Time’s plant and corporate headquarters. Koated Kernels uses Jolly Time’s signature butterfly popcorn due to its small size and crispiness. This allows the popcorn to never lose its crunchy texture. The assorted flavors are baked fresh daily and stirred by hand. One of the most popular flavors is the Sioux City 50-50, a half-and-half blend of caramel and white cheddar cheese. Other popular flavors are classic caramel, sea salt caramel, birthday cake, chocolate drizzled caramel, and cinnamon roll.
Shellsburg’s Tiny But Mighty Popcorn traces its origins to an heirloom seed discovered by Samuel Kelty in the 1850s; this popcorn seed has never been genetically modified or hybridized. It almost did not happen as Richard Kelty’s, Samuel’s great-great-great grandson, mother almost popped the last remaining kernels. However, Richard saved some seeds and planted them.
While he did not have much initial yield success with the seed, he brought Gene Mealhow, a farmer and soil consultant, to help out. Gene would later become the caretaker of the seed and the company. This popcorn business offers a variety of flavors from white cheddar to sea salt to spicy southwest, and it can be purchased in seed form, microwavable bags, or fully popped.
Cedar Rapids’ Almost Famous Popcorn Co. was founded in 2008 by a then 13-year-old Sydney Rieckhoff and her 10-year-old brother, Carter, according to We Are Iowa.
The company continued to grow over the years alongside its owners who are now young adults. Almost Famous has a Des Moines location and bought out Noble Popcorn in Sac City in March, according to the Corridor Business Journal.
Almost Famous offers more than 30 popcorn flavors including fire-breathing dragon, poppy chow, snickerdoodle, and, naturally for a Cedar Rapids-based company, Crunchberry Day.
by Sean Dengler
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