Flavored popcorn is not a new thing; the trend of gourmet popcorn has been going strong for over two years now. According to The Popcorn Board (yes, that’s a real thing), the average American eats 51 quarts of popcorn annually and Americans eat about 16 billion quarts per year. That’s a lot of popcorn!
There are some benefits to enjoying this crunchy snack: popcorn is a whole grain, it’s low in calories and it contains antioxidants like polyphenols that help fight free radicals. Similar to tofu, popcorn takes on the flavor of whatever you prepare it with so it begs the question: why don’t we use more creative flavor combinations when we make popcorn? Sure, popcorn is delicious with vegan butter, hot sauce, and nutritional yeast but we can do more. Popcorn can be sweet or savory, it can have ethnic flavors like Indian, Italian or Chinese, it can be simple for kids or gourmet for adult parties. Let’s take a look at 10 new and creative ways to flavor your popcorn.
Basic Popcorn Cookery
To make stovetop popcorn: heat ¼ cup vegetable or coconut oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add a few kernels, cover the pot and cook over medium-high heat. When the kernels pop, remove them and add ¾ cup kernels to the pot and cover it. Cook the popcorn and every once in a while, shake the pot. When the popping slows down significantly, take the lid off to let the steam out. Toss the popcorn with your choice of toppings.
Let’s start with my favorite way to eat popcorn – Italian-style. Whenever I eat popcorn, I add garlic, red pepper flakes or hot sauce and vegan grated parmesan. It’s like making my favorite pasta dish but with popcorn. You can simply toss popcorn with garlic powder, hot sauce and red pepper flakes or take a few minutes to make delectable garlic butter. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat 3 or 4 Tbs. of vegan butter. Add 3 minced garlic cloves, ½ tsp. dried oregano and a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Remove from the heat and pour over fresh popcorn. Toss to coat and then sprinkle ¼ cup vegan parmesan. Season with kosher salt, toss again and serve.
2. Indian Curry
Indian curry is amazing with all the fragrant, warm spices. If you have ever enjoyed a bowl of curry made with coconut milk, chile peppers and a blend of curry powder and other Indian spices, you will love those same flavors on your popcorn. Melt ¼ cup vegan butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 Tbs. curry powder, 1 tsp. agave nectar, 1 tsp. ground turmeric, ½ tsp. garam masala, ¼ tsp. black pepper, a pinch of cayenne pepper and kosher salt to taste. Pour over popcorn and toss to coat. Mix in chopped cashews and golden raisins and serve. For another Indian-flavored popcorn recipe, try this Curry Coconut Popcorn.
3. Jamaican Jerk
If you follow my articles and recipes, then you know that Jamaican food is my very favorite cuisine. One of my favorite recipes is Jerk Tofu which is spicy and amazing. Those flavors are also delicious on popcorn. Melt ¼ cup vegan butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Mix in 1 Tbs. Jamaican curry powder, 1 Tbs. Jamaican jerk seasoning (allspice, cinnamon, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, cloves, black pepper, thyme and chile powder), 2 minced garlic cloves, 1-inch fresh grated ginger and kosher salt to taste. Pour over the popcorn and toss to coat. Add toasted shredded coconut and fresh lime zest and toss again. Learn how to make your own jerk seasoning in How to Make Your Own Spice Blends.
If snickerdoodles are one of your favorite cookies (of course they are!), then you’ll love snickerdoodle popcorn. It’s sweet from the sugar, spicy from the cinnamon and all-around just delicious. In a bowl, combine 2 Tbs. light brown sugar and 2 tsp. ground cinnamon to make cinnamon sugar. Melt ¼ cup vegan butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Pour over the popcorn and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top. Toss to coat the popcorn. For an extra treat, melt vegan chocolate chips and drizzle over the popcorn. Let harden for half an hour before serving. Or add unsweetened cocoa powder and a pinch of cayenne to make Mexican snickerdoodle popcorn based on these Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodle Cookies.
People have been eating that famous caramel popcorn with the surprise in the box for 120 years! Making your own caramel popcorn is easy and much healthier since you get to choose the ingredients. All you have to do is mix up a few ingredients to make the caramel, pour it over the popcorn and bake it until crispy. That’s it. You can make it simple like my Vegan Caramel Popcorn or jazz it up. Add bourbon for sweetness like in this Vegan Bourbon Popcorn. Enjoy a mix of sweet, salty and a little bit boozy with this Peanut Butter Caramel Popcorn with Bourbon.
At One Green Planet, we love s’mores. We have recipes for No-Bake S’mores Bites, Peanut Butter and Banana S’mores, S’mores Donuts and even S’mores Sweet Potato Brownies. So why not s’mores popcorn? No reason I can think of. Just melt ¼ cup vegan butter with 1 tsp. vanilla and a pinch of salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Pour over the popcorn and toss to coat. Toss with chopped up vegan marshmallows, chocolate chips and crumbled graham crackers. Spread it all on a baking sheet and bake for just a few minutes at 350 degrees until the marshmallows and chocolate start to melt. Let it cool and enjoy!
7. Buffalo Ranch
If I’ve typed it once, I’ve typed it a thousand times – I would eat my shoe if it was covered in Buffalo sauce. I really don’t think there’s anything that doesn’t taste amazing when it’s given the Buffalo treatment. To prove my point, make Buffalo Tofu Fries, Roasted Buffalo Cauliflower Bites, Buffalo Tofu Po’ Boys, Buffalo Tempeh Meatballs and Buffalo Roasted Chickpeas and see for yourself. Now that you know I’m right, make Buffalo popcorn and since you don’t get to dip popcorn, mix in some ranch dressing. Melt 2 or 3 Tbs. vegan butter in a saucepan over medium heat with ½ cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and 2 Tbs. Low-Fat Vegan Ranch Dressing. Pour over the popcorn and toss to coat.
A favorite combination of flavors is sesame tahini with fresh lemon. We use it on salads, on falafel and on sandwiches so now let’s use it as a substitute for butter on our popcorn. You can even make your own tahini. In a saucepan, mix ¼ cup tahini with 2 Tbs. agave nectar or date syrup, one minced garlic clove, 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice and kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Pour over popcorn and toss to coat. For a spicy kick, add a pinch of cayenne pepper.
9. Chinese Orange 5-Spice
Some of my favorite flavors come together to make the most incredible Chinese dishes like in my Vegan Orange “Chicken” with Zucchini Noodles or this Orange Cauliflower dish. The combination of tamari, garlic, ginger, fresh citrus juice and 5-spice powder is amazing. It works as well on popcorn as it does on tofu and veggies. Melt ¼ cup vegan butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 minced garlic clove, ½ -inch fresh grated ginger, 2 tsp. tamari, 1 tsp. brown rice vinegar, 2 tsp. brown sugar or agave nectar, the zest and juice of ½ an orange, ½ tsp. 5-spice powder and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Taste for seasoning adjustments. Pour over popcorn and toss to coat.
10. Very Veggie
You know I couldn’t write an article full of recipes and leave out the greens. Everything is better with greens including popcorn. No, I’m not kidding. Turn your snack into a superfood snack by mixing some favorites into it. Prepare some Baked Kale Chips, Spicy Kale Chips, or even Sour Cream and Onion Kale Chips and chop them up into small, bite-size pieces. Then make some healthy veggie chips like Zucchini Chips or Beet Chips. If you need some tips on doing this, see How to Make Healthy Veggie Chips of All Kinds (in 4 Simple Steps). Mix the kale chips and veggie chips with the popcorn and toss with melted vegan butter, if desired. Season with kosher salt and add nuts and raisins too! You could even add dehydrated berries or banana chips. See How to Make Healthy Dehydrated Fruit for tips. Now you can feel really good about munching down on some snacks because you’re eating your veggies too.
Once you get your imagination and creativity going, there’s no end to the number of gourmet popcorn recipes you can make. Just take the flavors of any cookie, any cake, or any savory dish you love and use them on your popcorn. What’s your favorite gourmet popcorn flavor? Tell us in the comments.
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