Movie Theatre Popcorn Secret Ingredient?

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.

Secret ingredient of movie theatre popcorn?

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:’

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

75 thoughts on “Movie Theatre Popcorn Secret Ingredient?

  1. Good info. But what brand of corn is used for a big popped kernel? I have a local popcorn store near me. They wont tell what brand they use, except that you have to use a different corn if you are going to put Carmel or cheese flavoring or butter.

  2. I just called up the movie theater that I go to and asked them what products they use in popping their popcorn and have been making popcorn that way ever since…I must be some kind of genius or something to come up with that idea lol

  3. No, Anonymous: a ‘genius’ would have shared the answer with the rest of us.

    Coconut oil can indeed be found at Kroger. The yellow-orange brand I buy, specifically for popcorn, was nowhere near the popcorn, but in the oil section. And Orville Redenbacher’s Buttery Popcorn Topping is a good approximation of what the movie theatres use. It’s sometimes cheapest at Walmart.

  4. If you are really wanting to pop theater quality popcorn at home it is a fairly simple process. first get a real popcorn popper not a microwave or hot air machine. a real popper will have a kettle with a stirring arm built into it and the cabinet will have a heater in it. I use the Premium America brand sold by Great Western Products. everything you need is in one package with this stuff. Warm up the kettle for around 5 minutes and then dump the oil into it. let the oil heat up for 3 to 5 minutes more and then dump the corn and salt into the kettle. the popcorn pops up light, fluffy and crisp with a yellow color to it. i don’t add anything else to it myself but my wife likes to add snowcaps to hers. you can buy the Premium America popcorn through a bunch of places online and in some rental stores but i found it is cheaper to just call the 800 number on their website and have it shipped to the house. the site is the 800 number is on the contact page.

  5. if you want to do the caramel popcorn thing. you need to get what they call mushroom corn for that. regular popcorn will just crumble into little pieces but the mushroom corn is a lot tougher and won’t break. the problem is that if you get tired of the caramel popcorn and want some plain old salted popcorn … the mushroom corn is a lot tougher and not as enjoyable without the caramel. hope this helps!

  6. I have found butter flavor Flavocol and peanut oil make the best popcorn… bar none. I have a Gold Medal popcorn machine. I found the cococut oil (though reccomended) gave the popcorn an odd taste. Peanut oil takes the heat and imparts a fantastic flavor. Just be careful of people with peanut alergies.

  7. I’ve been trying to make movie theater popcorn for a long time now, but haven’t quite gotten the right formula. I have flavacol, orville seeds, coconut oil, and a whirlypop popper. It usually tastes too salty and not buttery enough. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but it just doesn’t come out like the movie theaters has. I have used different toppings but none really seem to add anything to the popcorn. Has anyone successfully gotten movie theater quality popcorn?

    What products do you use, and amount of ingredients do you use? Help!

  8. When I go to the theatres in our area, they pop the corn in their theatre-style machines and they add the butter or butter flavor topping to the tub when you buy it. They either salt it after popped, before you buy it, or while popping; haven’t noticed. I bought my husband a theatre-style machine with a warmer, ensuring that he never takes me on a date again cuz the only way I can get him to go out is to go to a theatre where he loves to eat the popcorn. Sorry, I got off track there a minute, so the machine is great but I don’t like the popcorn and oil products that they sent. Too salty and fake butter aftertaste. I appreciate the advice here and I’m going to try everything and will come back and submit my opinion.

  9. A lot of movie theaters use Weaver Gold popcorn. Red coconut oil (coconut oil with beta carotene added for color) seems to be the preferred popping oil. Flavacol is added with the popcorn to the oil when it is melted. Clarified butter and popcorn salt (both Morton’s and Diamond Crystal make this powdered salt) are used to finish the batch at home. Movie theaters use butter-flavored topping like Supur-Kist II instead of clarified butter. This is essentially soybean oil with butter flavoring.

  10. Me being a health nut, I almost threw up when I read this. I always thought something tasted fishy in that popcorn :(

  11. Let me get you all the secrets:

    1. There is a popcorn brand called Cousin Willie’s- located in Indiana. A lot of popcorn shops use their corn because of the incredibly fluffy kernels.

    2. Popcorn shops only pop in coconut oil. You can order this off the internet or get it at some stores. It’s orange in color and adds a unique flavor to the kernels.

    3. There is something called Ballpark Salt (look on the internet for it). It is yellowish in color. You add this salt to the coconut oil when popping your kernels, and each one will turn out whitish yellow like at the movie theatre.

    The butter is the only factor that I believe cannot be bought online or in stores. The butter at theatres is a blend of butter flavored oils that is completely processed and not real butter, but tastes delicious. When you pop using the above 3 measures and then add regular butter, you should be 95% satisfied tastes wise that if movie theatres failed to exist anymore, you would be ok at home.

    P.S. The best microwave brand is Pop-Secret Homestyle. Real bits of salt, and tastes like real butter. Soooo good.

  12. P.P.S. Get away from Orville Redenbacher kernels and oil. They claim to be the best, but if you tastes Cousin Willie’s vs. Orville, you will swear you were eating rocks before. I have tried to make Orville with Coconut Oil and they are still hard pebbles. Fresh popcorn is key and I don’t know if Orville dries their corn too long or uses smaller kernels, but whatever it is, it’s not good. Trust me!!! I am a lifetime lover of popcorn. My tongue should be popcorn taste certified!

    The only info I don’t know is how to get the chedder cheese flavor coating that is sold at Garret’s in Chicago or Not Just Popcorn in Indiana. If anyone has any info, let me know. Thanks

  13. If you want fluffy kernels, take some dry popcorn, put it in a glass jar, cover it with water, pour the water off, then put it in the refrigerator for a few days.

    Lots of water content in the kernels, and when they hit hot oil they get very excited. MUCH fluffier than normal.

  14. I like to use an air popper, and a large tupperware tub. As the popcorn pops into the tub, I use a spray bottle, and spritz with good extra-virgin olive oil every few seconds to coat the kernels well, shake it thoroughly, then spinkle lightly with Flavacol while still hot. GOOD STUFF!

  15. Check out Dr. Russel Blaylock-a neurosurgeon converted to nutrition research. Coconut oil and butter are actully very healthy oils, if one does not turn the temp to high and make them smoke. Both butter and coconut oil are naturnally hydrogenated (very different from artificial hydrogenation-especially partial hydrogenation) In addition, coconut oil is composed largely of mediam chained trygilcerides-making them easy to digest. However, if you see on the label of ingredients anything like partially or artifically hydrogenated-avoid it. Many controlled studies show that short lived mammels (mice and rats)when fed diets of partially hydrogenated fats, develop many life threatning conditions (clogged arteries and cancer to name two. Falvacol is definitely not on my menu. Wayne Kuhn

  16. Since movie theatres make the bulk of their profit off of the refreshment stand, they should allow people to walk in and buy the popcorn fresh to take home – supply closeable bags instead of the ones you eat instantly. I’d probably go once a week to get a big bag for the family movie night! It could be a great source of extra revenue. I bet a lot of people would drop by to grab some popcorn for movies at home.

  17. We purchased your jumbo pop secret popcorn. We were very disatisfied with it. It wouldn’t pop. Was full of hulls and so many seeds left unpopped. Would not purchace it again. This was a jar of popcorn. We tried to make popcorn balls with it and gave most of it to the birds.

  18. The movie theater I go to. Dose let me go in there and buy a bag of POP cken and take it home

  19. hello,
    thx for great info, i tried today with coconut oil with aluminum kettle, result was dissapointing.
    Because of low smoke point, i did not make it on medium high flame as i usually do, i tried with low at first but of course it takes ages to pop, and i noticed all oil vaporized. Left too many unpopped kernels and popped corns tasted dry and no oily like hot air machines do.

    in second run, i make it medium high flame, i saw coconut oil giving white smoke and vaporized again and popped corns tasted dry and no oily again…

    i dunno what im doing wrong, im suspicious about coconut oil’s quality. It smells like cough syrup and vaporized easly. Any ideas???

  20. I have been wanting to figure this out too: how to make that theater popcorn. Reading this site helped a lot. And I have made great progress.

    This works well, still not absolutely perfect, but much better than home made! It reminds me more of the department store popcorn from when I was a kid. NO need to add salt or butter to your bag of popcorn (glutten!), good yellow coloring .

    My popper looks like a theater machine, hanging pot, tilting kettle, motorized agitator, etc, but it is quite small, only 2.5 ounces per batch, though I found I can overload it by 50% and it still works fine. Here it the best recipe I have tested:

    First, if your kettle is totally clean and dry, oil it first, you need that pre-existing oil film inside the kettle.

    Preheat the (already used once with some oil residue still in the pot) kettle until it begins to barely smoke. Add 1 tablespoon Gregg’s ready to use popcorn oil ($15 per gallon at cash and carry) The new oil will cool the pot slightly. Immediately add 1/8th to 1/4 teaspoon Flavacol salt to the oil in the kettle. Before it begins to smoke again add 1/2 to 3/4 cup popcorn kernels. When the popping stops shut off the heat and dump the kettle.

    Use Powdered popcorn salt to salt to taste, but I don’t add anything on account the Flavacol already salted the popcorn while popping.

    I tried the exact same recipe but using a solid popcorn oil Lou-Ana Coco-PoP, but the results were inferior. I wondered that this solid shortening maybe was too old on the retailer’s shelf, it seems to have a very slight stale taste. If that was not there it would be fine, so probably I got an old batch, I would encourage you to try it, it’s cheap.

    Also I tried variations, including just flavacol and clear corn oil, diluted Gregg’s oil with corn oil, etc. I had a great time experimenting, and watched some of my favorite dvd movies to pas the time between batches. Your best bet I think is to invest in these supplies and play with the recipes and experiment.


Comments are closed.