National Popcorn Day is on January 19
National Popcorn Day is on January 19 Photo by Mo Abrahim for Pexels

Here at The Latin Times we strive to find a delicate balance between what binds us as Latinos and the incredibly diverse group of cultures that stretch from Patagonia to Mexico. In short, we're similar, but we're far from being a monolith. And a prime example of that can be found in... the way we refer to popcorn. It seems that every country has found a different moniker for the tasty snack, so we decided to take a deeper look into this considering that today, January 19, is National Popcorn Day.

Incredibly, there's evidence that popcorn existed in Peru almost 6,700 years ago. But it blossomed in popularity during the 16th century with the Aztecs, who integrated it into their ceremonies, mainly using them to decorate headdresses. Spanish explorers were fascinated by the bursting snack and helped spread its popularity even further. By the mid 1800s, popcorn had also become a staple in the United States.

Popularity, however, didn't guarantee an official name for the tasty treat. Peruvians, the precursors, refer to popcorn as cancha or canchita, a name that derives from the quechua word kamcha, which means toasted corn. Mexicans on the other hand prefer to call it palomitas, a name they share with Spaniards who chose the longer moniker palomitas de maiz. Although there is no official history for that name, it is believed to derive either from their similarity to white pigeons or because they are actually used to feed the birds.

Another popular, widespread name for popcorns is rosetas de maiz which references their rose-like shape.

Popcorn has different names across Latin America
Popcorn has different names across Latin America Photo by Mahmoud Fawzy on Unsplash

Even though palomitas and rosetas are probably the most popular translations for popcorn, pretty much every Latin American country has chosen a name of their own, driven by everything from the sound they make when popping to some hilarious Anglicisms. Here's a list so you can order popcorn in any movie theater in the region:

  • Cabritas (Chile): Cabritas translates to goats and seems to reference how corn popping resembles a goat jumping.
  • Crispetas (Colombia): Two theories around this one. One is that it derives from the English word crisp. The other is linked to Catalan immigrants since the moniker in that language is crispetes. Feel free to choose your own lore with this one.
  • Cotufas (Venezuela): Believe it or not, this one is a fun Anglicism that comes from the label on the packages of corn kernels that would arrive from the U.S. In them, you could read "corn to fry", which when read quickly out loud originated cotufa.
  • Pochoclos (Argentina): Another fun one. This combines the pop from popcorn with the word choclo which is the Quechua word for corn. Combined it produces popchoclo and with a bit of linguistic distortion it produces pochoclo.
  • Pororó (Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay): One of the most popular monikers in South America. There are a couple of theories around its origin. One states that it comes from the word in Guaraní for "making noise": pururuca. Another, more playful theory states that the name comes from the sound the popping sound the kernel makes: Po! Ro! Ró!

Other names for popcorn across the region are canguil (Ecuador), cocaleca (Dominican Republic), poporopos (Guatemala) and rositas de maiz (Cuba).

Call it what you will, but the fact remains: popcorn is one of the most popular snacks around. Whether you like them with butter, caramel or just plain salt, they're still the perfect companion for any movie night of visit to the fair.

Happy National Popcorn Day.

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