There are a wide range of popcorn seasonings in the world, from the savory to the sweet. Some popcorn seasonings are seen only in certain cultures, some only at certain times of the year, and some are so ubiquitous it is difficult to imagine popcorn without them. While traditional popcorn seasonings are still very popular, in the past few years, with a widespread popularization of specialty foods, some more exotic spices and accompaniments have appeared as popcorn seasonings.
One of the most common popcorn seasonings is simple butter. Butter melted on popcorn adds a richness and saltiness to it that most people enjoy. For an even richer taste, one part butter can be mixed with two parts lard, and extra salt can be added. In North America, popcorn is often served with salt and butter or salt and oil, and sweeter popcorn seasonings are seen less often. In the United Kingdom, however, popcorn is served equally often with salt and with sugar.
Many movie theatres in the United States use coconut oil as a way of popping popcorn, and then top it with either butter or margarine and salt. Because of the massive amounts of coconut oil used, as well as the large amounts of butter or margarine, movie theatre popcorn can be incredibly high in fat. In fact, one study showed a small popcorn had around 30g of saturated fat, or about three times as much as a Big Mac®.
Various forms of powdered cheese may also be used as popcorn seasonings, to give the popcorn a cheesy flavor. Cheddar cheese, white cheddar, nacho cheese, Parmesan, and jalapeño cheese are all commonly seen as popcorn seasonings. Often these flavorings are little more than dried milk with artificial flavorings added, but nicer venues will sometimes use real cheese, especially in the case of Parmesan.
Powdered popcorn seasonings using artificial or natural flavoring can come in almost any flavor combination imaginable. Companies selling these flavorings often come up with exotic flavorings in order to differentiate themselves. For the most part, powdered flavorings sold in the United States are savory, with flavors like sour cream and onion, ranch dressing, Cajun spice, dill pickle, and barbecue.
Kettle corn is a popular type of sweet popcorn sold in the United States and in Europe. Kettle corn consists of popcorn popped in oil, and coated with granulated sugar and salt. This gives it a nice combination of saltiness and sweetness, with less sweetness than caramel corn. Caramel corn itself is also quite popular, and is made by covering popcorn in molasses or caramel. Caramel corn may also be flavored with additional flavorings, such as chocolate, blueberry, strawberry, or coconut.
Popcorn seasonings may also include simple spices put on the popcorn by themselves. Ground black pepper, for example, is popular in some groups. Paprika and cayenne pepper are also popular popcorn seasonings, adding a spiciness to the popcorn. Nutritional yeast, or brewer’s yeast, is also a very popular seasoning, and is seen more and more even in mainstream venues like movie theatres. Nutritional yeast is full of many different vitamins, especially the B-complex, and is high in protein, making it a healthy alternative to things like cheese flavoring.