Crunchy, buttery, full of carbs… popcorn is the ultimate “happy food.” No, really—studies have shown that the serotonin found in the gluten-free whole-grain can have relaxing, mood-lifting effects. No wonder it’s such a popular party appetizer, late-night snack, and most importantly, a snacker’s ultimate companion for movie nights.
But as healthy as popcorn can be on its own, concession stands and pre-packaged varieties often serve it drenched in salt and butter—or even worse, artificially flavored goop masquerading as butter.
We’ve found 30 recipes from bloggers around the Web that pump up popcorn’s nutritional profile. Made with a dash of butter, topped with cinnamon sugar, or mixed into a sweet and salty combo, there’s a tasty option for every craving. Better still, we’re pairing each variation with our recommendation for a film to watch along with it.
Out of apples? Inept with an oven? No worries; you can still have all the flavors of the traditional baked treat—just pack it into a batch of popcorn instead of piled into a crust. With triglyceride-lowering cinnamon, apple pie spice, and vanilla, the recipe maintains all the flavors of the original while a touch of stevia keeps it sugar-free. Better yet, once your popcorn is popped, the whole thing takes less than 30 seconds to put together, making it easy as… well, pie!
Coconut flakes—armed with cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber—get toasty in an oven before joining a generous heap of vegan chocolate chips and stevia-sweetened, freshly popped corn. If a macaroon and a chocolate chip cookie had a health-conscious baby, we bet it would taste something like the flavors here.
Movie: Stranger Than Fiction
Unlike many pumpkin spice snacks, which often rely on artificial flavorings, these morsels call for just two tablespoons of unrefined sweetener and a spoonful of real, canned pumpkin. A seasonal treat that fills you up with beta carotene instead of scary chemicals? Surely that scores this popcorn some extra points.
With just three whole-food ingredients, caramel popcorn just doesn’t get any easier (or healthier) than this. Instead of a mound of sugar dissolved into saccharine syrup, this blogger cuts the sweetness and hikes up both the protein and healthy fat content by using nut butter. (Tip: Choose the all-natural kind to avoid any added trans fats).
If three-ingredient recipes seem easy, this one takes things to a new level of simplicity with only two of ‘em. And the prep is equally effortless: drizzle melted chocolate over popcorn, and eat. Choose bittersweet chips, made up of at least 60 percent cacao, for maximum blood pressure-regulating flavanols.
The mint chocolate combination tastes great with pretty much anything, so why not try it with popcorn? Make an antioxidant-rich glaze with either honey or maple syrup and just a touch of mint extract to avoid going into toothpaste territory. The result is a magic shell-like coating that gives the popcorn an even more satisfying crunch than usual. Bonus: you can make it a cool shade of green with some natural food coloring.
Movie: Lilo and Stitch
There’s nothing wrong with plain old chocolate-glazed popcorn, but how about spicing things up (literally) by adding a pinch of cayenne pepper and cinnamon? Cayenne is known not only for its kick, but also its metabolism-boosting and appetite-suppressing potential. Pair it with the cardiovascular perks of cocoa powder, and you’ve got a popcorn that’s en fuego with the healthy benefits!
In this spin on the classic dessert combination, butterscotch chips and Craisins (try unsweetened cranberries to keep the sugar levels down and the vitamin counts up) join apples and cinnamon, adding a bit of richness and an even bigger punch of fruity fiber to the mix. Plus, butterscotch seldom makes the cut in a recipe labeled “healthy,” which is reason enough to be chowing down on this batch.
Movie: The Royal Tenenbaums
If sugar substitutes make you squeamish, make this recipe, which uses the ultimate all-natural sweetener: dates. The fruit, high in a variety of nutrients from magnesium to potassium (crucial for regulating blood pressure) takes a whirl in a food processor with almonds and coconut oil—two powerhouses of healthy fats. Together, they churn out a sauce that glosses over the popcorn. Rich but wholesome, and totally addictive.
Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
This recipe was originally devised for World Nutella Day, but come on, limiting consumption of the chocolate-hazelnut concoction to a 24-hour window simply isn’t happening. In a devious but genius twist, the blogger adds a dash of ground ancho chile pepper, espresso powder, and cinnamon to the spread, which give the mixture an unmistakable heat along with cancer-fighting properties from the spices and memory-boosting caffeine from the coffee. Poured over a mound of popcorn and hazelnuts, you’ll be surprised at how good it tastes—and very glad that the recipe makes a generous 14 cups.
Movie: The Nutty Professor
11. Churro Popcorn
Concession stand staple meets carnival confection for an incredibly simple-to-make hybrid of flavors. Better yet, there’s no deep-frying. Just melt cinnamon chips (they’re available online if not at your grocery store) over the popped corn and sprinkle on a good dusting of sugar, plus extra cinnamon for added skin-protecting, diabetes-curbing, bacteria-killing benefits. Curl up with a bowl of this and a cup of hot cocoa for the perfect sweet treat.
Movie: Despicable Me 2
Savory Popcorn Recipes
Kale has long surpassed spinach as the favorite leafy green, but we get it—with tough leaves and a somewhat bitter flavor, it can be a tough health prescription to swallow. Make the superfood tempting to any palate by grinding it up with a fragrant blend of lemon, sea salt, and grapeseed oil (in moderation, its fatty acids can maintain skin cells and arteries). Toss it all with a bunch of popcorn; you’ll get all the antioxidants—it comes out to a full cup of kale per serving!—without any of the incessant gnawing.
Movie: Food Fight
13. Dorito Popcorn
We dare you to take a look at the nutrition label of a bag of Doritos. Spoiler alert: It’s a terrifying lineup of dietary offenses, from high sodium levels to indecipherable chemicals. Get your nacho cheese chip fix with this popcorn instead. It’s entirely vegan and you can identify every item in the relatively concise ingredient list. And don’t worry, the best part about the original remains intact: yummy, cheesy orange residue to slurp off your fingers at the end.
Movie: Wayne’s World
Take Chipotle’s signature rice dish and turn it into this 15-minute snack. Using a squeeze of vitamin C-rich lime, a handful of oral health-promoting cilantro and just two tablespoons of butter, it’s a healthier variation of the same flavors, without the lengthy process of cooking rice or the need for a whole lot of oil. With flecks of green peeking out among the kernels, it’s healthy, tasty, and pretty!
Movie: No Country for Old Men
Gluten avoiders will especially appreciate this wheat-free take on a carb-tastic appetizer. Fiber-filled popcorn replaces the traditional white bread and is peppered with basil and parsley, as well as that unbeatable heart-healthy duo of garlic and olive oil. Warm, crunchy, and brimming with subtle but rich flavor, it’s kind of baffling that they don’t serve this at Italian restaurants.
Movie: The Godfather
Wasabi and soy sauce aren’t just for sushi; a bit of each give this popcorn that deeper, “umami” flavor. Find wasabi online or at your local natural food store—we promise it’s worth the extra mile, thanks to the horseradish powder’s anticancer and pro-dental benefits. Cut the zing of the wasabi with a bit of butter, which also makes for a delectable pairing with the soy. You end up with a snack that tastes kind of like wasabi peas: just as irresistible, but much healthier.
Movie: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Finally, a vehicle for buffalo sauce that isn’t deep-fried and doesn’t involve meat! Popcorn gets the hot sauce treatment here, although with just 4 tablespoons of butter in the 12-cup yield as opposed to the usual heaps of it in restaurant sauce, this recipe is perfecting the moderation thing. The rest of the flavor comes from a variety of seasonings reminiscent of ranch dressing, like dill and garlic. So much better, and better for you, than the additive-laden stuff in the packet mix!
Movie: The Great Chicken Wing Hunt
Using fresh (not dried) rosemary, fresh (not bagged) popcorn, and fresh (not processed) Parmesan, this recipe is as all-natural as it gets. Rosemary is known to provide relief from indigestion while a liberal scattering of the cheese gives the popcorn a punch of bone-preserving calcium. This recipe serves enough for a crowd, so make sure you’ve got plenty of hungry snackers around when you make it—it’s too delicious not to share!
Movie: Rosemary’s Baby
Got a hankering for pad thai, tom kha, and green curry? This popcorn takes a minimalist approach for results that satisfy your thirst for Thai in a pinch. The inclusion of both coconut oil and toasted coconut flakes provides a silky coating plus a satisfying crunch. A dash of ginger and curry powder round out the ethnic flavors along with antioxidant qualities that regulate blood glucose and promote liver function. Bonus: no greasy takeout-induced hangover!
20. Masala Popcorn
Dress up your popcorn in Bollywood glam with the addition of metabolism-spiking chili powder, infection-fighting turmeric, and a pinch of asafoetida to help with digestion. To go really traditional, the blogger suggests tempering the powders in the oil before adding to the popcorn for the most even distribution of flavors. It may be quicker than curry, but the end results are no less impressive.
Movie: The Lunchbox
Vegans, get your cheesy popcorn fix here! Among all the spices that give this recipe its taco-like flavor, nutritional yeast stands out as the real star of the show; it serves as a plant-based source of cheddar-like flavor without the need for dairy, but it’s also a gold mine of health: two tablespoons come in with barely any fat, 8-9 grams of protein, and a bunch of B vitamins that non-meat eaters often miss out on. The recipe only calls for half a serving, but we say sprinkle away!
Skip cocktail hour and go straight for this recipe, where tequila (that’s right!) finds its way right into seasoning blend. In fact, studies show that in moderation, it can even raise “good” cholesterol levels. That’s no reason to go glugging a bottle, but it’s all the more reason to add a splash of it to this popcorn along with the other margarita-inspired ingredients. It’s a slightly sweet, slightly spicy, and completely unique way to make any movie night that much more fun.
Movie: ¡Three Amigos!
Amidst all the fancy iterations here, let’s take a minute to go back to popcorn’s humble beginnings, where a hefty squirt of butter would suffice. While it turns out that bit of butter isn’t so bad for you after all (hooray!), the amount you get from a concession stand dispenser is excessive (plus, questionable in terms of if it’s even really butter). This blogger calls for just a teaspoon of the real stuff to mist over the popcorn, so that every morsel gets in on the buttery goodness. Perfect portion control for health-conscious popcorn purists!
Movie: Real Genius
Sweet and Salty Popcorn Recipes
Aside from a bit of agave syrup for a sweet tinge, this popcorn is purely about the peanut butter, offering different quantities depending on just how nutty you want to get. Whatever the amount, go for the all-natural kind to reap all the potassium and none of the salt; you can add as much or as little sea salt later—the unrefined kind has the added perk of maintaining endocrine health. The snack is crispy, creamy confirmation that the simplest recipes are often the best.
Movie: Meet Joe Black
It’s the ultimate in sweet and spicy popcorn, so it’s only natural we’d go looking for a version of kettle corn that doesn’t depend on gobs of oil or heaps of sugar. Luckily we report back with success: this vegan recipe calls for 2.5 tablespoons of a coconut/palm oil combination and a few teaspoons of lower-glycemic coconut sugar (available at most grocery stores) for less of a blood glucose spike. Plus, with none of that partially hydrogenated garbage you find in the microwavable kind, this is what you want to be noshing on during your next snack attack.
Movie: Stand By Me
If straight-up curry is too much for your spice threshold, try this recipe instead, which pours a tablespoon of honey into the spice mixture. Not only will the sticky sweetener soften the curry’s jolt, but it also contains anti-inflammatory properties that work perfectly to calm an upset (or spice-stricken) tummy. This may be a mellower take on a spicy staple, but it may also become your new favorite way to eat it.
Movie: Mississippi Masala
In the spirit of cutting the heat of spiced-up popcorn, check out this sweetened spin on healthy, but super potent, ingredients. Wasabi has properties that may prevent the formation of blood clots and cancer cells, but it can be intense! Just a teaspoon of sugar spread out over four-servings is enough to provide welcome relief to the send-shivers-up-your-nose effects of the horseradish. It’s the ideal way to introduce wasabi to novices, and to enjoy its strong taste without a post-consumption bout of indigestion.
Movie: Lost in Translation
This recipe gives everyone’s favorite hot sauce some sugar—literally. Here, the sugar and sriracha—with capsaicin-containing chili peppers that boost metabolism and garlic that can lower blood pressure—are thrown into the pan right alongside the unpopped kernels, infusing them with sweetness and spice as they crackle their way into popcorn. They even look the part, turning a blazing shade of orangey-red that’s bound to attracting your eyes and your palate.
Using a bar made of 80 percent cocoa (the more cocoa, the more cholesterol-lowering oleic acid!), this recipe boast bitter sweetness that complements the buttery popcorn and savory, flaky sea salt. Chop up the bar and liberally sprinkle the pieces over the kernels so that they melt evenly. The end product is the culinary equivalent of "opposites attract," both in its black-and-white appearance and in its sweet-and-salty taste.
Subbing out some of the sugar for peanut butter is a nutritious way to cut the cloying sweetness of caramel corn, but this recipe doesn’t just use the savory element as an understudy; it makes it the star by also throwing a handful of lightly salted peanuts into the mix—clocking in at less than 140mg of sodium per one-ounce serving, they’re significantly lesser offenders than other salt-saturated snacks and actually meet FDA guidelines for heart-healthy foods. So go nuts (worry-free!) with a bowl of this during your next movie night.
Movie: The Peanut Butter Solution