Popcorn is one of the world’s healthiest and most popular snack foods. Whether binge watching your favorite TV show or sitting down to a movie with friends, air popped popcorn is a great snack. These are our favorite vegan popcorn & healthy topping options.
Popcorn Nutrition Facts
Popcorn is an unprocessed whole grain. It is different from breads and cereals that have been through many different types of processing.
Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories and less than 1 gram of fat per one-cup serving.
Researchers from the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania found that popcorn contains higher levels of antioxidant polyphenols than other whole-grain foods, fruits or vegetables.
Polyphenols are micronutrients that we get through certain plant-based foods. They’re packed with antioxidants and potential health benefits. It’s thought that polyphenols can improve or help treat digestion issues, weight management difficulties, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease, and cardiovascular diseases.–HealthLine
In addition to being naturally low in fat and calories, popcorn also contains health-promoting fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
There are many ways to enjoy popcorn, but the most convenient and most popular tends to be the pre-packaged microwave variety.
Unfortunately, many brands of microwave popcorn are made using hydrogenated oils, which contain harmful trans fats. Studies have linked trans fats to an increased risk of heart disease and other serious diseases.
How much fat is in movie theater popcorn
Movie theaters usually use coconut oil to pop their popcorn, and that adds a load of artery-clogging saturated fat–a whopping 60 grams!
A large tub of popcorn at Regal Cinemas, for example, holds 20 cups of popcorn and has 1,200 calories, 980 milligrams of sodium and 60 grams of saturated fat. Adding just a tablespoon of butter adds 130 calories. And do not forget that it comes with free refills.
Not so hungry? The medium size popcorn, which comes in a bag, contains the same amount as the large. And even the small, at 11 cups, delivers 670 calories, 550 milligrams of sodium and 24 grams of saturated fat.—New York Times
For a breakdown of each theater’s popcorn nutrition values, read How Many Calories are in Movie Theater Popcorn.
How to make healthy vegan popcorn
Air popping is one of the healthiest ways to prepare popcorn because it does not involve oil, which adds to the fat and calorie content. It can be made on the stove top, in an air popper or in the microwave.
Stove top oil-free cooking method
Things you are going to need:
- popcorn kernels
- large pot with tight-fitting lid and handles on each side
- 2 hand towels or oven mitts to hold onto hot pot handles
- Seasonings and spices (many options listed below)
Cooking popcorn on the stove top takes about 10 minutes and requires active participation. The pot can not be left alone on the heat and demands shaking of the contents throughout the process to prevent the popcorn from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.
Complete printable instructions from LiveStrong can be found below in the recipe card.
How to cook popcorn in a brown paper bag in microwave from Bless This Mess
- Add the popcorn to the paper bag and fold the top over a time or two.
- Microwave on high until the popping has a one second gap in it, 1.5-2.5 minutes.
- Stop the microwave, dump the popped popcorn into a large bowl and season as desired.
- Repeat as needed to get the desired amount of popcorn.
The goal is to pop as many kernels as you can without burning the popcorn. The time that will take will vary depending on the age and water content of your popcorn, your climate/weather, and your microwave.
Don’t walk away from the popping or you’ll end up with a bag of burnt popcorn. Stand there and listen until, after the popping starts going rapidly, you hear a one second pause in popping. As soon as you hear that little break, stop the microwave.
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Microwave air popper cooking method
This is the method that I use because it is so easy. Simply add popcorn kernels and set cooking time to 3-minutes. I use the Presto PowerPop, and it cost about $15 on amazon. It just doesn’t get much easier.
Healthy Popcorn Topping Options
So if butter and oil are not great choices for air popped popcorn, what are some other options? Thankfully, there are so very many.
Once your popcorn is popped using one of the methods above, the key is to lightly mist it with a water bottle or cooking sprayer. Cooking sprayers disperse a finer mist which is best.
Don’t over spray, as you only want enough water (or other liquid as listed below) to make the dry seasoning stick, but not cause the popcorn to become chewy. Go very easy with the misting.
In a large bowl, mist and season the popcorn, tossing it around in the bowl as you go to thoroughly coat each piece. So basically, mist-sprinkle with seasoning-toss-mist-sprinkle-toss-and so on.
Here are some healthy topping combinations. Just put any liquid ingredient listed in the spritz bottle and mist. Then sprinkle with dry seasonings and toss to coat well.
List of Healthy Popcorn Seasonings:
- Chili powder, nutritional yeast, and sea salt
- Lime juice, lemon pepper dry seasoning, salt
- Amino acids and nutritional yeast
- Tabasco and nutritional yeast
- Nutritional yeast and garlic powder
- Amino acids and curry powder
- Balsamic vinegar, garlic salt, and onion powder
- Turmeric and cayenne pepper
- Dill pickle juice and chili powder
- Apple cider vinegar,lemon pepper, and sea salt
- Lime juice and taco seasoning
- Lime juice with smoked paprika
- Plum vinegar, garlic powder, and salt
- Pickle juice and dill, chili powder, garlic powder, cinnamon
- Soy sauce, lemon pepper, curry, garlic powder, dill
- Trader Joe’s chili lime
- Old Bay Seasoning
- Cinnamon and coconut cane sugar
- Maple syrup drizzled over and sprinkled with cinnamon
So a recap of some liquids to mist on air popped corn before sprinkling with dry seasonings–
- lime juice
- lemon juice
- pickle juice
- balsamic vinegar
- apple cider vinegar
- plum vinegar
- any vinegar of your choice
- amino acids
- soy sauce
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- 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
- spices for seasoning
Preheat a stove top burner on medium-high heat. Pour popcorn kernels into a medium-to-large pot. This amount of kernels produces 2 quarts of popcorn when popped. If you need more than this, cook the popcorn in batches. The popcorn needs room to pop; doubling or tripling the recipe and attempting to cook it at one time will prove to be unsuccessful.
Place the pot on the stove top and cover with the lid. Grab each handle of the pot if they are heat-resistant and won't get hot during cooking. If the pot doesn’t have handles or if the handles are not heat resistant, use clean hand towels or oven mitts to hold the middle edges of the pot on each side. Be careful not to touch the stove top burner.
Shake the pot lightly back and forth several times to move the kernels around. This prevents them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Within a few seconds, the popcorn should begin to pop.
Listen as it pops and shake the pot three times every 10 seconds. When you hear the popcorn popping begin to slow, remove the pot from the heat, but keep the lid on.
Remove the lid when you no longer hear the popcorn popping. This could take between 15 to 30 seconds.
Pour the popped popcorn into a bowl. Mist lightly with water or other liquid ingredient listed above. This is to make the seasonings stick to it and add flavor. Sprinkle any dry seasoning. Many options are listed above.
Toss the popcorn lightly in the bowl to distribute the seasonings and serve.
For those concerned about microwave safety-
Fear of microwaves is not science-based. We are surrounded by devices that emit minute quantities of electromagnetic radiation. A microwave is about as dangerous as a laptop. Probably less as we don’t hold it in our lap while it operates.
We should likely be more concerned about cell phone use than microwaves. Below are a number of articles from Harvard, OSHA, and World Health Organization (WHO) that might help. The very short video below will also help.
- Harvard Health Studies
- Nutrition Facts.org
- World Health Organization
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health
- CSIRO Australia National Science Agency