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Experts say the third Golden Age of Popcorn may be nigh.

Charlie Heller
September 29, 2017

Fewer people may be going to the movies, but popcorn sales are exploding like, well, popcorn. Between February 2016 and 2017, sales of ready-to-eat popcorn and caramel corn rose 16.9 percent, in what expert corn-poppers are calling a potential "third golden age" of popcorn.

While popcorn is still the most popular food for moviegoers, a spokesman for the National Association of Theater Owners told The Guardian that the snack's traditional home saw its worst summer box office totals in a decade this year. While this could be an obstacle for the continued rapid growth, it's possible that newer venues and reasons for consumption of the ancient treat could help make up for it.

While it's been eaten since the Aztecs were popping corn 4000 years ago, popcorn saw two more recent booms. First, the rise of large sporting events and movies helped popularize the cheap, shareable treat during the Great Depression, until theater sales fell in the '50s thanks to the spread of TV, Patrick Evan-Hylton told the paper. In the 1980s, though, technology turned things back around, thanks to the popularity of the microwave, making home popping easier than ever.

While that, too subsided, industry members credit the rise of cable and streaming services like HBO and Netflix as giving people more opportunities to watch movies at home, and with those opportunities, more reasons to make and share popcorn outside the theater. But another, more surprising factor is at play as well: health.

Popcorn was long though of as unhealthy, especially considering a lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans was nicknamed "popcorn lung" after a form of butter flavoring that began to be phased out in 2007. But now, as a "non-GMO, gluten-free whole grain" that's high in fiber and low in fat and calories, popcorn makers say people are considering it a healthy snack—provided you can chill on the butter.

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