10 Ways to Perk Up Your Popcorn

Public Domain. MaxPixel

You'll never want plain butter and salt again after reading this zingy, zesty list of popcorn topping ideas.

I am a popcorn addict. About three or four times a week, after putting my kids to bed, I head to the kitchen and make myself a large bowl of stove-popped popcorn. Then I curl up on the couch with a good book and munch away. Sometimes it's the greatest half hour of my day.

My popcorn-making methods have evolved over the years as I've tweaked and improved the recipe. If you haven't made popcorn on the stove before -- and I'm always surprised at how many people have not -- then you should really give it a try. Here's a quick lesson before we get to the creative topping ideas.

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels

I use coconut oil because it can reach a higher temperature without smoking than olive oil or butter and has a milder taste. Put it in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan and let it melt. Toss in three kernels and cover. Wait for them to pop, then you'll know it's hot enough.

Dump in the rest of the kernels and cover. Start shaking the pot occasionally to coat kernels in oil. As soon as they start popping, shake constantly, setting it down on the hot element just for a few seconds. Once the popping subsides and 4-5 seconds pass between pops, it's done. Remove from heat.

Pour popped corn into a bowl. Once pot has cooled slightly, add a chunk of unsalted butter and it will melt quickly. Drizzle this over the popcorn with whatever toppings you want. (Butter is optional; some people prefer without, or with olive oil.)

Here's where it gets fun.

Usually I add liberal amounts of nutritional yeast, kosher salt, and melted butter, tossing and testing constantly to reach that perfect point. But recently I've begun branching out and experimenting with other popcorn flavorings, thanks to a wonderful feature from the Dec/Jan 2016 issue of Fine Cooking. Karen DeMasco listed a number of popcorn toppings that were shocking and brilliant at the same time.

Then I spoke to TreeHugger staff and found out that we all love flavoured popcorn. What follows is a list of popcorn ideas, sourced from my coworkers, Fine Cooking, and my own culinary experiments.

Tamari sauce & nutritional yeast: Add a generous dash of tamari (a kind of soy sauce) to the melted butter and swirl to combine. Drizzle over the popcorn and add nutritional yeast. You won't need much salt, if any.

Olive oil, parmesan & smoked paprika: This suggestion comes from TreeHugger editor Melissa, who says it's her go-to topping.

Truffle oil & parmesan: Add a small quantity of truffle oil to the melted butter (or you could use olive oil). Truffle oil is very strong, so be careful not to overdo it. Grate fresh Parmesan over the popcorn and grind some fresh pepper over top. Mix well.

Cinnamon-sugar: Just like the toast topping, mix some white sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle over popcorn that's already had melted butter poured over it.

Maple-bacon: For any non-vegetarians, this is a decadent idea from Fine Cooking. Cook some bacon, pop the corn in the residual fat, toss with maple syrup and salt, and crumble bacon over it all.

Togarashi popcorn with dry-roasted edamame: This recipe uses sesame oil to pop the kernels and tosses them with togarashi (a Japanese spice powder), packaged roasted seaweed snacks, and dry-roasted edamame.

Spicy caramel popcorn: This takes a lot more work, but it's worth it. The recipe comes via Smitten Kitchen, and Deb Perelman says, "This is a salty, spicy, grown up caramel popcorn." She's absolutely right.

Matcha & dark chocolate: Melt 3 ounces dark chocolate with 1 tbsp coconut oil, stirring over low heat. Sprinkle 2 tsp matcha powder over popcorn and mix well. Drizzle with chocolate. Add a sprinkle of sea salt. Put into fridge for 10 minutes until chocolate sets. (via The Kitchn)

Honey-brown butter: Another suggestion from The Kitchn, brown 1/4 cup of butter. Stir in 1/4 cup honey and pour over popcorn. Mix well. Sprinkle with salt.

Ranch dressing-style popcorn: Blend buttermilk powder with nutritional yeast and onion powder, then sprinkle over hot buttered popcorn. See full recipe here.

What do you like to put on popcorn?