I’m not a huge fan of popcorn, but once in awhile I make it to satisfy a curious craving. I’ve tried for years to duplicate the taste of popcorn sold in movie theatres and was disappointed in the results.
I’ve tried popping it on the stove with oil, in hot-air machines, in ready-to-pop prepackaged microwave bags, and in a reusable microwave cooker specifically designed to pop dried corn kernels. This latter method is how I make popcorn now, and I don’t use any oil in the container during popping, though the container’s instructions indicated it was permissible to add oil if desired.
I’ve tried various oil toppings, including butter-flavored oils said to be specifically for popcorn, and still was disappointed, it never tasted like what they sold at the theatre. Popping the kernals using an oilless method led to the problem of getting salt to stick to the popcorn, and clearly, the theatre popcorn seemed to have a butter flavor. Cooking popcorn in butter never worked for me, the temperatures involved burned the butter. So, after using the oilless microwave method, I’d drizzle a small amount of gently melted butter on the popcorn after it was popped and stir it thoroughly. After this I’d sprinkle it with table salt to taste, stirring the pocorn several more times. It didn’t taste like theatre-quality popcorn, but it was the closest I’d found.
The other day, browsing one market’s eclectic products, I happened across some Flavacol. At first I was confused as to what precisely was in the carton, but after reading the label and noting the price, I purchased some to satisfy my decades long quest of homemade theatre-grade popcorn.
An Internet search lead me to various popcorn supplies, caramel, kettle, and cheese corn, various flavors of glaze pop, and some savory shake flavors. Finding a retailer that stocks them at a reasonable price is the challenge, the store where I bought the above-pictured product sold only this one type of flavored salt on the popcorn aisle. After making a batch of popcorn and sprinkling some Flavocol on as a final step, then tasting it, I believe it’s likely one secret of movie theatres’ popcorn! It seems to need less butter for a butter flavor when using Flavocol: ‘artificial butter flavoring’ and ‘real butter’ don’t have quite the same flavor.
I also learned from the Internet search that it’s not much of a secret anymore. Hydrogenated coconut oil with artificial butter flavoring is typically used to pop the kernals, and there’s an artificial-butter-flavored topping available that is composed largely of hydrogenated soybean oil, both of which include beta-carotene for coloring, according to their respective ingredient labels.
A search for the label ingredient “artificial butter flavoring” is revealing, it seems one should not deliberately concentrate and inhale it, some workers in popcorn production plants appear to have had lung problems.
Added on 2/16/06:
For my future reference, I’m adding a link or two regarding various cooking oils’ critical temperatures, otherwise known as the ‘smoke point:’ http://www.cookingforengineers.com/article.php?id=50 http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Cookbook:Smoke_Point
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, and so is butter. For those of us who try to improve the health of our diets, any type of hydrogenated oil should probably be avoided.
It might be interesting to try popping corn using an extra light and highly refined olive oil, or some other less flavorful oil (with a high smoke point) as a method of further reducing the real butter added. Avocado oil would be interesting to try because it seems to have the highest smoke point, but I wonder about its cost and availability. Peanut oil might be good to try except for the people who are allergic to it. Fully refined soybean oil (the non-hydrogenated variety) is another.
edited on 2/22/2008