We Tasted 26 Bags of Ready-to-Eat Popcorn
September 14, 2021
By Danielle Centoni
Popcorn is one of our top snacks of all time. The love affair started as a substitute for potato chips: popcorn has the same deeply satisfying crispness factor, but without being deep fried. And just like chips, popcorn tastes great plain, but is also a fantastic vehicle for creative flavor combinations. Plus, popcorn is a whole grain and requires exactly zero processing. For those of us who tend towards the crunchy end of the snacking spectrum, popcorn takes the proverbial cake.
Recently, we set out on a quest to identify all the very best brands and flavors of pre-popped popcorn currently on the market. We skipped any sweet flavors for this round of tasting and focused instead on the three most popular savory categories: salt, butter flavor, and cheese. Brands that ranked high offered great crunchiness, not a stale chew; a balanced level of salt; and a flavor that delivered what it claimed to. Here are the bags that popped right to the top.
Best Salted Popcorn: Angie’s BoomChickaPop Sea Salt
The kernels were plenty crips, with a rich, toasty flavor. Best of all, each individual kernel was perfectly salted, unlike many others we tried, which either skimped on the salt or tasted strongly of the oil they were popped in.
Runner up: Whole Foods 365 Classic Salted was extremely close in flavor and texture to Angie’s — in fact, we’re tempted to wonder if they’re made by the same manufacturer. We gave Angie’s the top spot because it’s easy to find at any supermarket, but if you have a Whole Foods near you, their version is basically identical and moderately cheaper.
Best White Cheddar Cheese Flavored Popcorn: 365 Everyday Organic
The Whole Foods store brand really does deliver. The white cheddar flavor on this popcorn was the most heavily saturated of all the brands we tried, which ensured each kernel really delivered. Most of the others had a hint of sweetness we didn’t love, or went too skimpy on the cheese powder.
Runner up: Cadia Organic White Cheddar was just slightly less cheesy than 365, but the flavor was still there, and the distribution still strong. Look for this brand at independent grocers.
Best Cheddar Cheese Flavor Popcorn: G.H. Cretor’s Cheddar Cheese
When you’re really craving that classic yellow cheddar flavor you get from a bag of Cheetos or a box of mac and cheese but you want to keep your snacking on the healthy side, G.H. Cretor’s can’t be beat. It’s made with those big, round, puffy kernels — the “mushroom” ones — and is dusted heavily in orange cheese powder (with no artificial colors or flavors).
Runner up: Angie’s BoomChickaPop Cheddar Cheese is less cheesy and the kernels aren’t delightfully big and puffy. However, it’s also slightly lower in calories and fat, so you do you.
Best Butter-Flavor Popcorn: Trader Joe’s Movie Theater Popcorn
Many of the butter-flavored popcorns we tried had a very clearly fake butter flavor. One had a weirdly powdery texture and a cheese-adjacent flavor thanks to added whey powder. But what we wanted was just pure, simple buttery popcorn, and Trader Joe’s delivered. It has no artificial flavors or colors, and gets its buttery taste from — who’d have thought! — being popped in actual clarified butter. Then it’s spritzed in expeller-pressed vegetable oil to get the salt to stick. Boom.
Runner up: Angie’s BoomChickaPop Real Butter Popcorn is similar to Trader Joe’s. This one is also made with clarified butter, as well as a little sunflower oil, and is finished with sea salt. There’s a dairy richness to it that we love. But the butter is much lighter than what you find at Trader Joe’s or what you get at the movie theater. So when you want a true butter flavor that’s a little more subtle, this is a good bet.
Other interesting flavors worth trying…
Skinny Pop Sea Salt and Pepper popcorn is amazing if you love black pepper. The first few bites seem a bit unbalanced at first, and then it all comes together. You’ll find yourself blowing through the whole bag if you’re not careful.
Lesser Evil Himalayan Pink Salt with Organic Coconut Oil is popped with extra-virgin coconut oil and flavor is deeply coconut-y, giving the popcorn a richness that makes it irresistible, no butter required.
Pop Art Cheddar Jalapeño is great for those who want a real hit of spicy heat with their cheesy popcorn — this is reminiscent of jalapeño poppers, and the bags are a joy just to look at, to boot.
Pop Zero Cinema flavor isn’t buttery like movie theater popcorn, but it’s just as addictive. This vegan popcorn is tossed in algae oil and dusted with pea protein and yeast extract for a complex and savory flavor that is hard to put down.