What is Kettle Corn?

Mary McMahon

Kettle corn is a form of popcorn which is made with both salt and a sweetener, creating a very distinctive flavor. This dish originated in Colonial America, where it became quite popular, and it spread to some parts of Europe, especially Germany. Kettle corn actually briefly fell out of favor in the United States before experiencing a resurgence in the late 20th century, perhaps as part of an overall renewed interest in traditional American foods. Kettle corn can be found at many fairs and social events, and it can also be made at home, either from scratch or from popcorn making kits.

Traditional versions of kettle corn are sometimes sweetened with honey.
Traditional versions of kettle corn are sometimes sweetened with honey.

Popcorn is an ancient New World treat. Archaeological expeditions have uncovered the traces of popcorn popping in settlements which are thousands of years old, suggesting that Native Americans were quite familiar with the properties of popping corn. When colonists first reached the Americas, they were undoubtedly introduced to popcorn at a fairly early stage, and by all accounts it was a very popular novelty food, which was also served as a snack at theater and music performances.

Kettle corn consists of popcorn and an added sweetener, making it a sweet and salty snack.
Kettle corn consists of popcorn and an added sweetener, making it a sweet and salty snack.

The original kettle corn appears to have emerged in the early 1700s, probably among Dutch settlers in New England. Their take on popcorn quickly spread, and it became a popular dish. Early kettle corn would not have used sugar, because it was an extremely expensive and rare sweetener. Honey and molasses are more likely candidates, and it was probably also cooked in lard, rather than vegetable oil, but the flavor would have been remarkably similar to that of modern kettle corn.

Salt, which is used to top kettle corn.
Salt, which is used to top kettle corn.

This popcorn product is not sweet, despite the addition of sugar. It has a distinctive salty, tangy flavor thanks to the blend of sugar and salt, and when well prepared it is not very greasy, because minimal amounts of oil are used. It is made by combining popping corn, oil, salt, and sugar in a large kettle and heating it slowly, tossing it to coat the popcorn in sugar, salt, and oil as it pops.

Many farmers' markets, flea markets, and other large fairs offer kettle corn. In some areas, people dress up in period costumes to make kettle corn, making the cooking process an event, and the kettle corn is served in bags for easy transport and so that people can take leftovers home. Some companies offer to ship kettle corn as well. If you want to make kettle corn from scratch at home, you will need a large heavy pot and a stable heat source. Heat a small amount of oil in the bottom of the pot, and then add popping corn, sugar, and salt. Keep a lid on the pot so that the popcorn does not escape, and shake it as the corn pops to ensure even distribution; when you're finished, adjust the seasoning to taste, and enjoy or pack the kettle corn into airtight containers for storage.

Kettle corn may be sold at flea markets.
Kettle corn may be sold at flea markets.

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Discussion Comments


Did you know that kettle corn is better calories wise than regular popcorn too? It's because of the way that it's popped in just a little bit of oil, rather than drenched in butter and chemicals like other popcorns.

In fact, when cooked in the kettle corn method, popcorn is actually a really healthy snack, since it's very low in calories and also provides a lot of fiber. Also, since so much of popcorn is air, you feel like you're eating a lot more than you actually are.

Remember though, this doesn't apply to normal popcorn -- eating a bucketful of movie theater popcorn is not healthy under any circumstances. However, if popped in a minimal amount of oil with just a little salt, popcorn is actually one of the better snack foods out there.


What kind of supplies to you need to make classic kettle corn? I see all these advertisements for gourmet kettle corn bags and machines, but can't you just do it with a pan? That's what I thought, but then I second-guessed myself.

So can you tell me, what are the basic kettle corn supplies, and how would I go about making kettle corn at home over my electric stove?

Thanks so much!


I love kettle pop corn -- even the microwave kettle corn, though of course the popcorn actually popped in kettle corn poppers are the best.

I think that there's no better winter snack to make, especially if you have a fireplace that you can use your kettle corn popper over, like I do. My favorite thing to do in the evenings in winter is to pop up a pan of kettle corn and watch a movie -- it's so peaceful, not to mention delicious!

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