Popcorn has gotten a bad rap, from movie theater tubs overflowing with salt and grease. But if you can resist drenching it in butter, popcorn is in fact a whole grain, boasting fiber, antioxidants, and other health benefits. Get back to the grain and lighten up your toppings for a crunchy and satisfying snack.
Start with 8 cups of plain, freshly popped corn. (Cook ¼ cup, or 1½ oz/45 g, kernels in the microwave with a brown paper lunch sack, or go old school and shimmy and shake a pot over the stove.)
Once popped, try one of these sweet, salty, and surprising topping ideas to make your plain popcorn, well, pop. (But before you dig into a big bowl, keep in mind one 3-cup serving of plain popcorn is about 93 calories. Add toppings and that count goes up, so pay attention to your portion size for an afternoon snack.)
If You’re Craving Something Sweet …
Brown Sugar & Spice: Get a hint of traditional caramel corn flavor with a sprinkle of raw sugar. In a small bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Drizzle 2 tablespoons melted butter over the popcorn. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and toss to coat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve. (A touch of salt brings out sweet flavors!)
Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt: Bittersweet chocolate packs big flavor—but fewer calories than puppy chow. While the popcorn is still hot, immediately scatter with 2 oz (60 g) finely chopped dark chocolate and stir to melt and coat. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and serve.
Peanut Butter & Honey: Stir in your favorite nut butter! In a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons honey and 2 tablespoons unsweetened peanut butter. Microwave until loose and warm, about 1 minute, and stir to combine. Pour over the popcorn and toss to coat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve.
If You Like Savory Snacks …
Parmesan & Black Pepper: Craving something cheesy? Drizzle 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over the popcorn. Sprinkle with ¼ cup (1 oz/30 g) shredded parmesan cheese. Season generously with coarsely ground black pepper and toss to coat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve.
Garlic & Rosemary: Get fresh with garlic and green herbs. In a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 cloves minced garlic. Microwave until the oil is warm and the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute, and stir to combine. Pour over the popcorn. Sprinkle with ¼ cup (1/3 oz/10 g) finely chopped, fresh rosemary leaves and toss to coat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve.
Coconut & Curry: Coconut oil is the perfect partner for warm spice. In a small bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon yellow curry powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Drizzle 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil over the popcorn. Sprinkle with the spice mixture and toss to coat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve.
If You Want a Little of Both …
Dried Fruit & Nuts: Better than crackerjack! Drizzle 2 tablespoons maple syrup over the popcorn. Add ¼ cup (1 oz/30 g) pecans and ¼ cup (1 oz/30 g) dried cranberries and toss to combine. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve.
Wasabi powder, lime juice, nutritional yeast – there’s a lot of crazy stuff you can put on popcorn!