Crunchy, buttery, full of carbs… popcorn is the ultimate happy food. No, really—studies have shown that the serotonin found in the gluten-free grain can have relaxing, mood-lifting effects. No wonder it’s such a popular party appetizer, late-night snack, and most importantly, the ultimate companion for movie nights. But as healthy as popcorn can be on its own, concession stands and prepackaged varieties often serve it drenched in salt and butter—or even worse, artificially flavored goop masquerading as butter.
We’ve found 27 recipes that pump up popcorn’s nutritional profile. Made with a dash of butter, topped with cinnamon, or mixed into a sweet and salty combo, there’s a tasty option for every craving. Bonus: We’re pairing each variation with our recommendation for a film to watch along while you munch.
Out of apples? Inept at using 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 piling it into a crust. With 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 get toasty in the 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, this popcorn scores some serious 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 by using maple syrup instead.
The perfect chocolate sauce is a bit of an endeavor, but it's totally worth it for this treat. Drizzle melted chocolate over popcorn, eat, and repeat. Choose bittersweet chips, made up of at least 60 percent cacao for a low sugar content.
The mint chocolate combination tastes great with pretty much anything, so why not try it with popcorn? Make a 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.
Movie: Lilo and Stitch
Ever wanted to have all the flavors at once—and be healthy? Well this recipe has got your back. Salty popcorn joins apples and cinnamon, adding a bit of richness and an even bigger punch of the flavors of fall to the mix. This recipe throws in actual dried apples, so you have plenty of crunchy snacks to munch on at once.
Dates, almonds, and coconut oil are puréed into a rich blend that gets poured over the popped kernels to create a sauce you'll want to have on hand for all future desserts. If you've never tried date sauce, prepare to have your mind blown at how much the dried fruit tastes like caramel.
Movie: The Royal Tenenbaums
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 over the popped corn and sprinkle on a good dusting of sugar, plus extra cinnamon. Curl up with a bowl of this and a cup of hot cocoa for the perfect sweet treat.
Movie: Despicable Me 2
Kale has long surpassed spinach as the preferred leafy green, but we get it—with tough leaves and a somewhat bitter flavor, it can be tough to swallow. Make it tempting by grinding it up with a blend of lemon, sea salt, and grape-seed oil. Then toss it all with a bunch of popcorn.
Movie: Food Fight
Get your nacho cheese fix with this popcorn instead of going for the bag. 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 lime, a handful of 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.
Movie: No Country for Old Men
Wasabi isn't just for sushi; it also gives this popcorn that umami flavor. Cut the zing of the wasabi with a touch 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. Popcorn gets the hot sauce treatment here, although with just 3 tablespoons of butter in the 12-cup yield, this recipe is perfecting the moderation thing.
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. It 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 Thai food? This popcorn takes a minimalist approach for results that satisfy your craving in a pinch. The inclusion of both coconut oil and toasted coconut flakes provides a silky coating plus a satisfying crunch. Bonus: no greasy takeout-induced hangover.
Dress up your popcorn in Bollywood glam with the addition of chili powder, turmeric, and a pinch of curry leaves. 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 and dairy-free eaters, get your cheesy popcorn fix here. Nutritional yeast is the star of this recipe; it serves as a plant-based source of cheddar-like flavor without the need for dairy. The recipe only calls for half a serving, but we say sprinkle away!
Skip cocktail hour and go straight for this recipe, where tequila finds its way into the seasoning blend. It’s a slightly sweet, slightly spicy, and completely unique way to make any movie night much more fun. Serving it with margaritas is highly encouraged.
Movie: ¡Three Amigos!
Amid 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.
Movie: Real Genius
Sweet and Salty
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 without the added salt; you can add as much or as little sea salt later. The snack is a crispy, creamy confirmation that the simplest recipes are often the best.
Movie: Meet Joe Black
It’s the ultimate in sweet and salty 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 1/2 tablespoons of a coconut/palm oil combination and a few teaspoons of coconut sugar. This is a much smarter choice for your next snack attack.
Movie: Stand by Me
Ah, yes. More wasabi! Tone it down with just a teaspoon of sugar spread out over four servings 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.
Movie: Lost in Translation
This recipe gives everyone’s favorite hot sauce some sugar—literally. Here, the sugar and Sriracha are thrown into the pan 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.
Using a bar made of 80 percent cocoa, this recipe boasts 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. So go nuts with a bowl of this during your next movie night. And with bacon?! Count us in.
Movie: The Peanut Butter Solution
Originally posted January 2015. Updated December 2016.