Popcorn is the snack of choice for movie-watching. We compare the different types and methods of popping corn to find out which pops out on top.
Your method for making popcorn will dictate the type of kernels you buy:
Air-popped: pour kernels into a small, counter top, electric appliance that agitates the kernels and heats up the air to get them to pop. You buy the kernels in a jar or bag.
Pot-popped: hot vegetable oil is put in a pot on the stove with a cup of kernels. Agitate to coat the kernels and avoid burning them as they pop. A method similar to this is for traditional movie theatre popcorn. Again, kernels come in a jar or bag.
Pre-packaged stove-top: has everything you need in a convenient aluminum cooking dish that you heat up and agitate. As the corn pops, the thin foil cover on top grows into a large bubble as the kernels expand, and you break it open when it’s done.
Microwave-popped: pre-packaged in a variety of flavour options. Press the buttons and wait. Some microwaves are hotter than others, however, so be careful not to burn it.
Pre-popped: all the work is done for you. Usually found at fairs and carnivals, or at specialty popcorn boutiques with many flavours. Just open the bag and enjoy.
Check the prices: microwave popcorn costs about three times more than plain kernels. Pre-popped, though convenient, can cost a lot more than a bag or jar of unpopped kernels, which yields double or more than what you’re getting pre-popped.
Many of the big name brands are owned by the same parent company. For example, ConAgra Foods Inc. owns Act II, Jiffy Pop, and Orville Redenbacher. The more flavours and styles they come up with, the more shelf space they occupy.
Consider buying regular plain kernels. They’re inexpensive and you can control the amount and type of oil you add to it for pot-popping, or butter and other flavours for air-popping.
There are also now organically grown kernels available on the market. The price is higher, but there are no pesticides used in growing the corn.
Air-popped popcorn with no added oil or salt is your healthiest option and can be a good source of dietary fibre.
Store loose kernels in air-tight glass or plastic containers to reduce moisture loss and help maintain popability.
In the pot-pop method, try to use healthier canola oil or olive oil.
Read the ingredients and nutrition information, especially in pre-packaged products. Microwave and pre-packaged stovetop popcorn often contain hydrogenated oils, also known as unhealthy trans fats.
Note the serving size. Microwave popcorn’s serving size is often much smaller than other types of popcorn. You could be getting a lot more fat than you think.
Pre-popped popcorn often contains added flavouring like cheese, which increase fat and calories.
Check the instructions for preparation. In some cases, nutritional information is based on air popping, so if you pop loose kernels using oil, remember to count those additional calories.
Pre-popped popcorn has a short shelf life, so make sure you’re buying the freshest you can get.
We tested these popcorn brands and methods:
- Generic Brand (loose kernels, pot-pop method): 30¢/100 grams
- Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn (loose kernels, pot-pop method): 53¢/100 grams
- Act II (microwave popcorn): 90¢/100 grams
- Betty Crocker (low-fat microwave popcorn): $1.05/100 grams
- Jiffy Pop (pre-packaged stove top popcorn): $1.72/100 grams
Our specific tests and results include:
Kernel Count Test
Our kernel count was to see just how much product you get for the money:
- The 908 gram generic bag had 6,068 kernels.
- The 127 gram Jiffy Pop only had 763.
- Orville Redenbacher’s 850 gram jar had 5,683 kernels.
- Act II’s 300 gram bag contained 1,485.
- Betty Crocker’s 255 gram bag totaled 1,383.
Old Maid Test
When you pop properly (which we did), you can gauge the kernel quality by the number of “old maids” left over. (Old maid is popcorn lingo for un-popped kernels.)
Ovrille Redenbacher and Betty Crocker tied with only 2% old maids.
Jiffy Pop left us with the most wasted kernels at 18%.
Generic left 4%
Act II left 3%
We asked some movie critics to join us in our taste test:
- The Jiffy Pop was preferred by only one tester.
- Act II was chosen by one tester, though everyone else found it too buttery with almost a chemical taste. Plus, its unnatural yellow colour made it look less appetizing compared to the others.
- The most thumbs up went to Orville Redenbacher’s gourmet popping corn.
- Many felt the generic popcorn tasted almost as good as Orville Redenbacher.
OUR TOP PICK
The Orville Redenbacher Gourmet was light, fluffy and fresh tasting, and one of the more economical choices, too. The generic rated a close second, so it’s a good choice if you’re on a budget.
Thanks to Our Experts
Nina Hirvi, Nutritionist